The European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution on Thursday recommending the suspension of military aid and assistance used for internal repression to Egypt in light of the “abduction, savage torture and killing” of Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni in Cairo.
The resolution was passed by a majority of EU parliamentarians, with 588 voting in favor, 10 against and 59 abstentions. Those who opposed hailed mostly from the far-right of the political spectrum, with four right-wing Dutch representatives voting against alongside three representatives of the Greek Golden Dawn, one UK member formerly with UKIP and one German representative from the satirical Die PARTEI party.
Those who abstained were made up mostly of representatives also from far right parties, alongside a few figures from the far left.
Representatives from Britain’s far-right UKIP party abstained for the most part, while those from the ruling Conservative Party voted in favor after having opposed the resolution when it was debated. This is perhaps due to pressure from Cambridge University, where Regeni was a doctoral student.
Also noteworthy among the abstainers was Dario Tamburrano from Italy’s Five Star Movement, a populist group that bills itself as anti-corruption, who parted from his party colleagues who voted in favor.
Twenty-eight-year-old Regeni went missing on the fifth anniversary of the January 25 revolution in Cairo amid heightened security and the arrest of a number of activists and human rights defenders.
The young researcher’s body was found on a deserted road in early February having been subjected to “something inhuman, animal-like, an unacceptable violence,” according to Italian authorities.
The European Parliament emphasized Regeni’s murder “is not an isolated incident, but that it occurred within a context of torture, death in custody and enforced disappearances across Egypt in recent years.”
The resolution calls on Egyptian authorities to provide their Italian counterparts with the requisite information in the Regeni case. It also expresses concerns about the closure of the El-Nadeem Center and calls on Egypt’s government to respect human rights, allow civil society organizations and trade unions to function unimpeded and to release all those detained for “exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
Reiterating Egypt’s role in regional stability, the resolution calls on European member states to adhere to previous resolutions concerning security cooperation and the export of military technology and equipment whereby exports of surveillance equipment should be suspended “when there is evidence that such equipment would be used for human rights violations.”
This motion isn’t binding for member states, according to the spokesperson for the EU office in Cairo, Rasha Serry, who added that the EU Parliament is a sovereign entity that practices its right to vote on such resolutions.
Regeni’s case is a subject of discussion in many European countries due to its “confusing” details, EU Ambassador James Moran told the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper on Thursday, stressing the importance of transparency for all parties involved in ongoing investigations.
Some of the European Parliament’s groups referred to thousands of “prisoners of conscience” jailed for exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including detainees Mahienour al-Massry, Alaa Abd El Fattah, Aya Hegazy, Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein, Ahmed Saeed, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel. It also criticized travel bans issued against many human rights defenders, including Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid, Hossam al-Din Ali, Esraa Abdel Fattah, Omar Hazek and Mohamed Lotfi, among others.
The motion cited deteriorating media and press freedoms, a crackdown on civil society organizations, mass death sentences issued for supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, torture in police detention and prisons, among other practices.
This is not the first motion proposed by the EU Parliament against the Egyptian government. On July 17, 2015, it urged member states to impose a wide ban on the export of surveillance technology to Egypt on the grounds that it could be used to spy on citizens. The ban would be in compliance with the Wassenaar Agreement on the export of military aid and security equipment that could be used to breach basic rights, the resolution added.
EU criticism of the Egyptian government thus far doesn’t appear to have impacted the military cooperation of many European countries. France, for example, has been a major suppliers of arms to Egypt. In September last year, Egypt bought two Mistral helicopter carriers, which cost approximately 950 million euros, after buying 24 warplanes in early 2015. Germany was also one of the first EU states to develop relations with the post-June 30 government, signing several economic partnerships and agreements. The trade exchange between the two countries reached its peak in 2014 at 4.4 billion euros.
Green Dutch politician and member of the EU Parliament Judith Sargentini, who has participated on discussions concerning Egypt for years, told Mada Masr she sees this resolution as a breakthrough, given how difficult it has been to pass resolutions on the country under previous Egyptian administrations. “Egypt has always been regarded as a geopolitical partner for Europe on the other side of the Mediterranean,” she explained. “But this is the first time I have seen agreement from all political currents — from the right wing, conservatives, social democrats and leftists — on the status of human rights in Egypt.”
The value of this resolution is not just in condemning the murder and torture of Regeni, but “is about linking it to general conditions of human rights violations in Egypt at large,” she stressed.
Head of the Arab Organization for Criminal Reform Mohamed Zarea agrees, asserting, “Egypt’s human rights record has been always criticized by the EU, but common interests have prevailed over talk of human rights. The tone and language of this resolution implies that this policy cannot continue now that European citizens are being targeted.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the European Parliament voted to suspend military cooperation with Egypt. It has been edited to reflect that the resolution calls on member states to adhere to the EU Foreign Affairs Council position to suspend hte export of surveillance equipment when there is evidence it would be used in human rights violations.