Europe calls and Egypt responds. It’s only been three days since the Vienna Summit on Saturday, when Germany and the countries of the Balkan route urged the European Union to make an agreement with Cairo to stop migrants, possibly similar to the one signed with Turkey.
Monday, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi responded to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s appeal. And the Egyptian President did so in two ways: first, by inviting young Egyptians not to leave the country to seek their future abroad, but also by announcing that the work for approving the new law against illegal immigration is proceeding quickly. The text would soon be released from the Committees of Constitutional Affairs, Budget and Foreign Affairs and sent off to the parliament.
This announcement follows Sisi’s order last Wednesday to strengthen controls at the borders, after the shipwreck off the Egyptian coast of a boat carrying 500 migrants, a tragedy that caused 160 known deaths.
In recent months, Egypt has become the second starting point for those who want to reach Europe, after Libya. Most migrants are Africans, but since the Balkan route was closed, many Syrian refugees are also going through Egypt. However, for some time, many Egyptians, especially young people, have been boarding the boats crossing the Mediterranean. They see no alternative but to try to create a new life in Europe.
Sisi talked to them Monday. “Why do you have to leave your country?” The general asked the question at an event inaugurating some housing units in Gheit el Enab. A rhetorical question, its answer lies in the deep economic crisis the country faces due to inflation and unemployment that now reaches double digits. A reality aggravated by the tourism crisis, which has pushed Egypt to negotiate a loan with the IMF for $12 billion.
Now Europe is offering to give Sisi another billion euros if the general will put an end to the departure of migrants. Merkel, who is the main protagonist of the agreement, as well as the one with Ankara, would also like to extend the deal to Tunisia. And just like happened in March with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, she ignores the systematic violation of human rights in Egypt.
Egypt’s new anti-immigration rules that could emerge in the coming days are in line with Europe’s demands. The regulation has 43 articles in which, behind the usual commitment to combat human traffickers with prison penalties up to 25 years and fines up to $56,300, there are measures against migrants caught in the country without documents and unaccompanied minors. And this in a country where migrants are already being treated very harshly. The photographs of some survivors of the Wednesday shipwrecks, show them handcuffed to hospital beds. It was not clear whether they are alleged smugglers.
For months, Western intelligence services have been worried about incidents along the Egyptian coasts, and early this year the alarm was raised. Migrants are transported through the country by truck to be delivered to the coast, where they are hidden before boarding. Contrary to what happens in Libya, inflatable boats are not used to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, very large vessels are used, “motherships” that wait off the coast for smaller boats in which smugglers transport hundreds of men, women and children. They are tramp freighters filled beyond their capacity, and often, as proven by the sinking last Wednesday, they are not even seaworthy.
After Erdogan, Sisi is the new candidate to be gendarme of Europe. A role that apparently he would play with the consent of Italy, despite the lack of cooperation shown by the authorities in Cairo in the murder investigation of Giulio Regeni.