Egyptian diplomats face a ‘hard mission’

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 22 Aug 2013

Egyptian diplomats say their diplomatic offensive with the international community is paying off

Fahmy and Ashton
Catherine Ashton (Photo:AP) and Nabil Fahmy (Photo: Courtesy AUC)

Egyptian diplomats have been continuing their keen efforts to communicate Egyptian authorities’ view of recent violence to the outside world.

“Our message is being made clear to the world… We are keen on the best relations with the members of the international community… we refrain from intervention in internal affairs… Egypt is determined to pursue the path of democracy … The contribution of all Egyptians to the political process is essential… The Egyptian state is responsible for the safety of its citizens and the stability of the nation,” said foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty.

These statements, according to Abdelatty, have been relayed to the world through various official channels.

Throughout the past month, since the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi in July in the wake of weeks of political turmoil and nationwide demonstrations that demanded his removal, Egyptian embassies across the world have been relaying this message to various governments and to the media.

However, the bloody dispersal of the two Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo and Giza last week by security forces has increased the apprehension of the international community, as pictures of dead protesters made the front pages of western newspapers, outweighing considerations of dead police and army personnel or the attacks on dozens of churches, violence allegedly carried out by Brotherhood sympathisers.

A diplomatic offensive was quickly arranged to “put these sad images in the real context” as diplomats in Cairo put it.

Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy sent letters to his counterparts all over the world and conducted a series of calls with the top diplomats in various capitals.

“It has not been easy; we were trying to justify something that is very hard to explain to the west: the body bags,” said a New York-based Egyptian diplomat ahead of a private consultation session that was held by the member states of the UN Security Council late last week on developments in Egypt.

Following the meeting, the same diplomat reported “considerable success.”

“We did not manage to pull the file out of the council but we did manage to block any official statement from coming out; we also blocked the informal statement that some had proposed. There were a few remarks made by the current chair of the UN Security Council, that is true, but what is more significant is that we blocked an attempt for a following meeting for the council to further consider Egypt.”

This sentiment of “damage containment” is also prevailing this week with the outcome of the European Union foreign ministers’ meeting on Egypt. The meeting that convened Wednesday in the middle of an otherwise religiously observed summer holiday produced what Egyptian diplomats in Brussels and across Europe say was “a mild reaction,” especially in view of what some of them qualify as the “hyper attention” addressed by the Western media to the dispersal of the sit-ins.

EU financial aid to Egypt was not suspended and the hold on arms equipment sales to Egypt is offered with a waver option for member states of the union. “This was almost the case following the ouster of [former president Hosni] Mubarak; it is what we could almost qualify as a standard EU procedure for countries that go through turmoil,” said an Egyptian ambassador in one of the EU member states.

Speaking to journalists in Cairo this morning, James Morran, head of the EU delegation to Egypt, was clear to express apprehension about “inappropriate use of force” by the law enforcement authorities and the apprehension over an extended state of emergency which was declared following the dispersal drama.

However, Morran was also clear to stress that these measures adopted by the EU on Wednesday were temporary and things would go back to normal once stability is restored in Egypt. Morran also said that the EU has no intention of intervening in the way Egypt does things – either in relation to investigations related to the dispersal of the Rabaa protest camp or to the inclusive side of the political process.

This said, Egyptian diplomats note the otherwise “careful” and “balanced” language of the statement that came out of the EU meeting, where blame for violence was not strictly put at the doorstep of the Egyptian authorities away from the Muslim Brotherhood. They also note that the press statements made by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton following the meeting contained unequivocal language about the EU interest in consolidating relations with Egypt and helping support the process of transition.

Still, the foreign ministry, according to statements of Abdelatty, will continue to communicate its message to the world about the process of democratic transition.

The developments of the drafting of the amendments to the suspended 2012 constitution, which was originally passed by one fifth of the eligible voters, have been shared by Egyptian embassies, not just in the west but across the world, including in the Arab world.

Arab nations have been largely supportive of Egyptian authorities’ attempts to restore stability. Egyptian diplomats are also reaching out to Africa, where the long history of military coups is still reflected in the perception of developments in Egypt.

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