Pictures of the brutal violence perpetrated by the Egyptian army in Tahrir Square in recent days have shown the world who is ruling post-revolutionary Egypt. Although democratic elections are taking place for the first time in the country, a military government will still guide a transition at a minimum for most of 2012 until a new President is elected and a new constitution put in place—both processes the military has already declared it wants to control. Clearly it will take a long time to have democratic functioning institutions in Egypt after decades of corrupt dictatorships.
Those who led the revolution and are today in the streets of Cairo have for months denounced how little has improved in terms of corruption and human rights in the last year, and highlighted the clear complicity of military holdovers in the government with the Mubarak regime.
Last week a Counter Balance delegation to Egypt had first hand experience of the arbitrariness of the current military government: the director of CEE Bankwatch Network, who was part of the delegation, was detained for nine hours by the army merely for taking pictures of some soldiers standing behind a barbed wire fence. He was released only after the personal intervention of the Hungarian consul.
In early December 2011 the EIB signed a €50 million loan agreement for the North Giza gas power plant, topping up its previous €300 million commitment. The deal was signed by the Minister of International Cooperation and Planning Fayza Aboul Naga. Aboul Naga is widely recognized as fluul, a pre-revolution minister still in the cabinet, playing the same role as before. The fluul are widely despised in Egypt for robbing the country of its wealth and the repression before and during the revolution, and many of them were banned from participation in the elections.
The time has come to ask the EIB (and the European Union) openly: why is the Bank so eager to pump up its financing in Egypt before democratic government and the rule of law is established? We know the Bank has looked the other way before: after all, the Mubarak regime was its best customer in the region, receiving €5 billion over the last twenty years. That was unconscionable enough. This, on the other hand, is not just morally bankrupt but reputationally foolish.
Does the EIB really want to be seen handing money to the men the world has watched beating women unconscious in the street? Does the EU want its development body to be seen as complicit in such obvious brutality? Does it understand that many of the investment decisions made by the military may well be negated in the future as illegal?
Egyptian civil society is trying to reclaim money lent to the Mubarak regime that has disappeared, bringing court cases and civil actions against the potential odious debt that assistance has created. New independent trade unions and civil society organisations have brought at least half a dozen successful legal cases against corrupt privatisation deals promoted by Mubarak and his cronies. Egyptian courts have ruled in favour of renationalisation of assets unlawfully sold.
Yet how would EIB know any of this, when it has not bothered to consult any of the people who made the revolution and are now fighting in the streets, nor the new democratic civil society organisations which have emerged in the country? Instead of asking the people who carried out the Arab Spring what they want their society to look like, the European Investment Bank is striking deals with a military regime that has killed at least fifteen of them in the past five days.
It is clear that fundamental human rights are still regularly violated in Egypt and the government is not meeting international obligations to respect and protect the human rights of the Egyptian people.
There is no justification for legitimising an undemocratic military government through loans which won’t benefit the Egyptian people in the short term – or in the long-term. To do so is not to support the Arab Spring, as EIB claims it wants to: it is to betray it.
By Antonio Tricarico and Anders Lustgarten