What Europe Should Tell Mohamed Morsi

By Elijah Zarwan & Issandr El Amrani

The inaugural European trip of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, should be an occasion for reflection. The relationship between Europe and Egypt is one complicated by colonial history, silence on and even complicity with many of the abuses conducted by Hosni Mubarak's regime, unease at the rise of Islamists as a dominant political power, as well as many binding cultural, economic and political ties. Mr Morsi's visit is thus an occasion to clear the air and reset the relationship.

The basis of that relationship should be a frank and open conversation between partners with a shared interest in Egypt's stability and prosperity. Europe should make clear that it believes decisions taken by an inclusive democracy based on broad consensus and respect for each citizen's equal rights stand the best chance of enduring to produce the stability Egypt needs to rebuild its economy.

The message is particularly timely as tear gas clears in Tunis and the families of the US ambassador to Libya and three of his staff grieve following violent protests that began in Cairo after Egyptian hosts of a religious talk show on a Saudi-owned satellite channel took exception to an amateur YouTube clip that defamed Islam.

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Morsi's visit affords an opportunity to have a quiet, frank conversation about whether he and the Muslim Brotherhood intend to cede the far right to the Salafi Nour Party, potentially alienating an important part of the president's electoral base, including within the Brotherhood, to govern from the center and to be a "president for all Egyptians", as he put it in a campaign speech, or whether he will try to maintain an alliance of religious parties. The question is above all relevant as critical constitutional questions are being settled. Constitutional articles are more enduring than campaign promises.

European foreign policymakers such as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who had the luxury of being part of a newly elected government, have expressed regret at past European complacency towards Arab dictatorships. His country, France, was alongside Italy and the United Kingdom among those who had the closest ties with Mr Mubarak and were the least inclined to take positions against the excesses of his rule. Others have expressed similar contrition, and have spoken of a need for change and even atonement, and voiced the hope of helping a fledging transition to democracy.

The question is now, as the head of state of the Arab world's most populous and most influential country visits, what will Europe do about it?


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Elijah Zarwan is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Issandr El Amrani is a freelance journalist and commentator and founder of The Arabist blog. Reprinted with permission from the European Council on Foreign Relations.

(AP Photo)

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