EU to bolster Egypt ties with billions in funding

By Thomson Reuters Mar 16, 2024 | 7:31 PM

CAIRO (Reuters) – European leaders are expected to announce a multi-billion euro funding package and an upgraded relationship with Egypt in Cairo on Sunday, part of a push to stem migrant flows across the Mediterranean that has been criticised by rights groups.

The agreement is designed to enhance cooperation in areas including renewable energy, trade, and security while delivering grants, loans and other funding over the next three years to support Egypt’s faltering economy.

European governments have long been worried about the risk of instability in Egypt, a country of 106 million people that has been struggling to raise foreign currency and where economic adversity has pushed increasing numbers to migrate in recent years.

Inflation has been running close to record highs and many Egyptians say they struggle to get by. Over the past month, however, the financial pressure on the government has eased as Egypt has struck a record deal for Emirati investment, expanded its loan programme with the IMF, and sharply devalued its currency.

Diplomats say Egypt’s strategic importance has been underscored by the conflict in neighbouring Sudan, which has created the world’s biggest displacement crisis, and the war in Gaza, which borders Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt has been the main conduit for international humanitarian aid sent to Gaza, and along with Qatar and the United States has been trying to mediate a truce between Israel and Hamas.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will lead a delegation on Sunday that also includes the Italian and Greek prime ministers and the Cypriot president.

Egypt’s finance minister has said the government has lined up a total of $20 billion in multilateral support after increasing its loan and economic reform programme with the IMF.

Of that, funding from the European Union is expected to total $5-6 billion, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait told Asharq Business.

Egyptian officials say Egypt deserves recognition for hosting an estimated nine million foreign residents and largely shutting off irregular migration from its north coast since 2016.


But there has been a surge in Egyptians trying to cross to Europe via Libya, and the European Union is already providing funding aimed at reducing those flows.

In recent months, the Greek islands of Crete and Gavdos have seen a steep rise in migrant arrivals – mostly from Egypt, Bangladesh and Pakistan – piling pressure on ill-equipped authorities and raising fears of a new smuggling route in the Mediterranean.

Activists have criticised Western support for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who came to power a decade ago after leading the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader.

Rights groups say tens of thousands of people have been jailed in a crackdown that has swept up dissidents from across the political spectrum.

Sisi’s backers say security measures were needed to stabilise Egypt after the turmoil of the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising and pave the way for providing social rights such as housing and jobs.

EU moves to offer financing in return for migration curbs in other countries including in Tunisia have run up against obstacles and criticism.

“The blueprint is the same as the flawed EU deals with Tunisia and Mauritania: stop migrants, ignore abuses,” Human Rights Watch said of the plan to enhance ties with Egypt and provide new financing.

The approach “strengthens authoritarian rulers while betraying human rights defenders”, the U.S.-based group said in a statement.

(Reporting by Patrick Werr, Philip Blenkinsop, and Renee Maltezou; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Nick Zieminski)