On the 17th of March 2024, the European Commission announced the stipulation of an accord named “Strategic and Comprehensive Partnership” with the Arab Republic of Egypt. The agreement, which will likely be implemented through the issuing of several thematic MoUs, covers seven pillars of strategic cooperation ranging from political relations to tackling water scarcity, and from counterterrorism to higher education exchange programs. The agreement also involves a financial package of approximately 7.4 billion euros, but it is unclear whether any benchmarks or conditions will be attached to its payment.

Since al Sisi's government seized power, the EU has pursued several cooperation programs with Egypt that served to entrench authoritarianism, lack of accountability, and impunity, systematically contravening its obligations to upholding human rights and dignity, the rule of law, and democracy.

It is not clear yet how the new Strategic and Comprehensive Partnership will impact human rights, social justice, and the civic sphere in Egypt; however, the agreement mentions commitments to reinforcing cooperation in all the key areas that have insofar contributed to strengthening the military's grip over Egypt, fuelling internal repression and economic insecurity.

All the sectors covered by the Strategic and Comprehensive Partnership are managed directly, or strategically controlled by, the Egyptian military establishment, which operates with extremely limited transparency within the state apparatuses. This leads us to question the EU's ability to implement the new cooperation agreement with Egypt without making itself complicit in Egypt's human rights crisis.

In February 2011, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood, Stefan Fule criticized the EU’s hesitation to support the Arab Spring and its aspiration for democracy, freedom, and social justice, saying: “We must show humility about the past. Europe was not vocal enough in defending human rights and local democratic forces in the region. Too many of us fell prey to the assumption that authoritarian regimes were a guarantee of stability in the region”. Thirteen years have passed since Fule made this statement, and the EU continues to support and embolden authoritarian regimes in the MENA region, falling prey to the illusion of maintaining stability in the area. The EU has yet to learn humility when dealing with the MENA region if it is to fulfill its mandate to uphold human rights, democratic principles, socio-environmental justice, and the rule of law.

In this position paper, we critically examine the strategic cooperation pillars underpinning the agreement from a human rights and environmental justice standpoint, flagging the reasons why the upcoming Strategic and Comprehensive Partnership is likely to infringe upon social justice, political stability, the rule of law, and democratic liberties in Egypt and the Mediterranean.

The position paper is available in English, Arabic, and Italian.