Geopolitics of the ArabSpring. The changes in EU external relations with Egypt

Bachelor Thesis, 2020

50 Pages, Grade: 2.0


Table of Contents

I Table of Contents

II List of Abbrevations

1 The “Arab Spring” and the European Union

2 Literature Review

3 Methodology

4 The “Arab Spring” in Egypt
4.1 Timeline and actors
4.2 Causes

5 The EU’s External Relations
5.1 External Relations Policy Fields and Official Interests
5.2 The EU’s construction of the Mediterranean

6 EU external relations with Egypt
6.1 European External Relations with Egypt before the “Arab Spring”
6.1.1 Trade and economic policy
6.1.2 Foreign Policy and Diplomacy
6.1.3 Development Policy
6.1.4 Security Policy
6.1.4 Discussion
6.2 EU external relations with Egypt during the “Arab Spring”
6.2.1 Economic and Trade Policy
6.2.2 Foreign Policy
6.2.3 Development Policy
6.2.4 Security Policy
6.2.5 Discussion
6.3 EU external relations with Egypt after the “Arab Spring”
6.3.1 Economic Policy
6.3.2 Foreign Policy
6.3.3 Development Policy
6.3.4 Security Policy
6.3.5 Discussion

7 Reflexion

8 Conclusion

III Sources

II List of Abbrevations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 The “Arab Spring” and the European Union

In December of 2010 a Tunisian street vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his vegetable stand by the police. This self ignition was the starting point for a wave of government protests which started in Tunisia and swept through many Arab countries. This movement of pro-democracy protests is most often referred in the media and in public culture as the "Arab Spring”, alluding to the Prague Spring of 1968, a pro democracy movement in the former Czechoslovakia. The "Arab Spring” was a heterogeneous pro-democracy, government critical protest movement which had very different outcomes in the various Arab countries. E.g. in Lybia, Syria and Jemen the protests led to, at the time of writing, still ongoing civil wars, in Quatar the protests were suppressed and in Tunisia and Egypt they led to democratic elections being held, following the ousting of the authoritarian president Ben Ali and Mubarak (Schneiders 2013).

These wave of protests came as a surprise to the international community and due to the instability which followed the protests in many of the affected countries, the "Arab Spring” was of critical geopolitical importance. Especially for the European Union (EU) this was the case mainly due to its geographic proximity (Morillas a. Leche 2017). The EU has maritime borders with many of the affected muslim Arab countries in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean has been defined as a homogenous region of interest for the EU since 1972, with the establishment of the Global Mediterranean Policy (Bicchi 2003). The Mediterranean region constructed by the EU (Bialasiewicz et al. 2012, Morillas a. Leche 2017) refers to the EU’s southern Arab neighbours (and Israel, Turkey) (European Commission 2020a), which includes many of the countries affected by the "Arab Spring”. Due to this geographic proximity the EU has certain interests and agendas in the region. These interests include for one the aspect of security. This aspect mainly focuses on the prevention of terrorist acts in EU countries, which first spilled over from the often politically turbulent Arab nations to EU countries during the Arab-Isreali conflict in 1970 (Mickolus 1980). Since then it has been a changing though steady problem for the Arab and European nations, with islamic-fundamentalism and -terrorism becoming a substantial challenge, since the early 1990s (Huntington 1993). As for this the Mediterranean was or is often seen as a threat to EU security (Morillas a. Leche 2017).

The EU also pursues substantial economic interests in the region, which first triggered the EU’s interest in the region (Isaac a. Kares 2017). This for one concerns the sheer trade volume, as in 2016 6,4% of the EU’s external trade was represented by its southern Mediterranean neighbours (European Commission 2020a). This represents a substantial part of the EU exports, especially concerning the EU’s southern countries (e.g. Italy, Spain). Another important aspect was the dependance of EU countries on oil and gas from its southern neighbours, which became visible in the 1973 oil shock, when oil became a "matter of national security” for the EU (Lieber 1976). During this time the EU imported oil mainly from the Arab countries. However, since then the dependance of EU countries on oil from its southern Mediterranean has regressed significantly (Eurostat 2020), but is still a factor.

But especially in recent years the aspect of migration to the EU from the Arab countries has become the most prevalent factor concerning the EU and its member states interests and agendas in the Mediterranean. Since the start of the 1990s migration from its southern Arab neighbours has been perceived as a problem by the EU countries (Bicchi 2003). With the start of the "Arab Spring” and the following "Mediterranean Migration Crisis” (Hammond 2015) there was a substantial upsurge in migrants crossing the Mediterranean, with 1.032.408 migrants crossing the Mediterranean and arriving in southern EU shores in 2015 (UNHCR 2020). The so-called "migration-crisis” was a loaded subject for the EU- and EU member countries policies. It also played a significant role in the upsurge of right wing, populist-nationalist, anti-EU parties and agendas in a number of EU countries (Ruzza 2019). An example for this is Germany where the upsurge of the "Alternative für Deutschland” (AFD) was mainly grounded on a migrant-hostile policy. This affects EU politics in itself as the upsurge in votes for these various right wing, nationalist parties, which are often critical of the supranational character of the EU, has led to more EU hostile parties hindering EU politics. The influx of migrants has also led to a partial breakdown of the Schengen area, the area of free movement inside the EU. All this has led, combined with other factors, to a EU in crisis and mistrust towards it in the various member states (Dinan et al. 2017; Buanano 2017).

The aspects mentioned above show the significant geopolitical importance of the Mediterranean region, and especially a stable one, for the European Union in a time of increased instability and uncertainty as was the "Arab Spring”. This offers the question as to how the EU changed the shape of its external relations with its southern Arab neighbours in regard to the crisis and the instability which it accompanied the uprising and what the motives and agendas were behind these external relations.

For this in the following bachelor thesis the changes in the EU’s external relations with the Arab Republic of Egypt before the "Arab Spring”, in response to the "Arab Spring” and in the aftermath of the revolutionary democratic movement, and the respective motives and agendas behind these external relations, will be analysed. In this thesis the term "Arab Spring” will define the entire period of democratisation in Egypt, as this will provide a more coherent structure and facilitate the analysis.

Egypt was chosen as a case study for the EU foreign relations with the countries affected by the "Arab Spring”, for one due to it being the most populous Arab State and the political powerhouse in the region. Second, an examination of the EU’s changing foreign relations with more than one country affected by the "Arab Spring” would exceed the possibilities of a bachelor thesis and not enable the required depth of analysis.

The arguments established in the thesis will be supported by data from "grey” literature sets. This data will concern trade volume, monetary aid which the EU provided in the different phases of analysis and data for security involvement as these sets provide significant information. Adding to this political declarations, statements etc. by EU institutions and officials will serve as qualitative "grey” literature sources. In the methodology section of the thesis, the used data sets and the thoughts behind this will be covered in more depth.

Subsequently to the methodology section a short literature review will be presented to situate the work in its scholarly context.

Then, to provide the required background information for the topic, before the actual analysis, some other aspects must be discussed. First the "Arab Spring” revolutionary movement itself and the motives and forces that fuelled this uprising in Egypt, will be analysed. This includes a short analysis of the political, economic and social situation in Egypt before 2011 and the political processes that took place in Egypt during and in the aftermath of the uprising.

Then the formation of EU external relations will be discussed. In this part the different aspects that constitute in the EU’s external relations will be explained. Also the aspect as to how these external relations are composed and the different constituents, institutions and services that are of importance in this process will be explained. This will provide necessary information to understand the mechanics behind the EU’s external relation processes and the different motives and agendas behind the decision making processes. This part will also include how the Mediterranean regional space, of which the Arab countries on the Mediterranean are a part and therefore Egypt as well, are constructed as a region of interest and influence by the EU, as this also influences the EU’s external relations in this area.

After these necessary background aspects the main part of the paper, analysing the changes in external relations, will be presented. The main part will be divided into three parts, the first part concerning EU external relations with Egypt before the "Arab Spring”, the second part the EU’s external relations during and the third part concerning covering the EU’s external relations after the "Arab Spring”. These three chapters will then be individually divided into four chapters concerning the different dimensions of the EU’s external relations to give a thorough and structured analysis.

The next part will provide a critical reflexion of the used methods and data sets.

In the last part the findings from the analysis in the main part will be summarised shortly and the conclusion will be drawn.

2 Literature Review

The subject of the EU’s role in the Mediterranean and its policies in this area have been of wide scholarly debate. E.g. this subject is examined in the following articles: Bicchi 2003 & 2007, Browning a. Joenniemi 2008, Gillespie 2008, Isaac a. Karis 2017, Smith 2005 and Seeberg 2009. As for the relevance of the EU’s role and policies in the Mediterranean itself, an event with such political magnitude as the "Arab Spring” has certainly added to the scholarly body of work. Scholarly publications have covered the EU and the "Arab Spring” in-depth. Examples for this are the following articles and essays: Behr 2012 Bremberg 2016, Jünemann 2013, Perthes 2011, Schumacher 2011, Steindler 2013. These publications mostly focus on the EU’s role during the "Arab Spring” and how it responded to it policy wise and how its role in the region changed due to the "Arab Spring”. Some publications also specifically focus on the EU’s external relations with Egypt examples for this being: Gomez Isa 2017, Achrainer 2019, but these publications focus mainly on the EU’s external relations with Egypt after the "Arab Spring”.

This bachelor thesis will offer something different. It will, beside the thoroughly debated EU external relations in response to the "Arab Spring”, focus, to the same scope, on the EU’s external relations before and in the aftermath of the "Arab Spring” analysing the changes in policy in depth, while putting the focus of the analysis on qualitative and quantitative data from "grey literature” sets. This analysis over a longer period and the focus on unedited data sets differentiates it, from the articles previously mentioned. As this requires a lot of analysis this thesis will focus on one state actor in the region, Egypt, allowing for a more thorough analysis over a longer period, which also differentiates it from the majority of the scholarly work on this subject. Thus to the knowledge of the author a thesis such as this is still missing from the scholarly debate and therefore it seeks to fill a scholar gap so far left empty.

3 Methodology

This bachelor thesis will rely on the methods of, for one, analysing scholarly literature, including books, essays and articles from relevant scientific journals and second the analysis of data from "grey” literature sources.

The most common definition for "grey” literature is the so-called Luxembourg definition, which defines "grey” literature as follows: "Grey literature is that which is produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry but which is not controlled by commercial publishers” (Schöpfel 2010). As for this thesis the literature produced by government institutions, in this case the EU, will be the most relevant. To provide qualitative and quantitative data which is needed for a thorough and critical analysis of the changes in the EU's external relations with Egypt, multiple sorts of data and sources for grey literature are used.

The data analysed will give more information towards the EU’s external relations while also providing additional information for analysing the interests and agendas behind the policies. This will be further explored in the following.

The data from "grey literature” sources will include for one data concerning the trade volumes between the EU and Egypt will be analysed, as this is a viable indicator for the general relationship between two states. This is the case as the trade policy oftentimes has, besides its inherent economic nature, also a geopolitical nature (Laidi 2008) and therefore provide information towards the EU’s interests and agendas in the region. This data is available from the official "European Commission Market Access Data Base” (European market Access Data Base 2020a).

Also data of financial assistance flows from the EU to Egypt will be used as sources. These financial assistance flows will come in the form of development assistance. The political side of development assistance is laid out by Carothers a. Gramont (2013). They argue that development assistance is inevitably inherently political. Money through development assistance is commonly used to shore up shaky allies, reward governments for cooperation on e.g. security issues or to gain influence in certain countries or regions (Carothers a. Gramont 2013: 8). As for this the changes in the provision of development assistance can provide valuable information about the EU’s interests and agendas in the assistance receiving country. This data is available from the website of the "EU Aid Explorer” provided by the European Commission (EU Aid Explorer 2020a). The data from the site includes the development assistance flowing from the EU to Egypt through the various channels and institutions, which provide development assistance.

A well as data of monetary flows, "grey” literature and data concerning the EU’s security involvement in Egypt will be analysed. This mainly includes data from arms deals between the EU’s member countries and Egypt, as the EU itself does not trade arms nor has sincere control over its member’s arms dealing. The dealing of arms between countries has become a highly sensitive subject and therefore strictly controlled affair. It shows a high degree of trust and a relatively strong geopolitical bond, as weapons being used for human rights violations does shed a very negative light on the weapon sending country. Besides the obvious economic motivation for the arms sending country (Levine et al. 2003), the trade of arms to a state is oftentimes motivated by certain agencies such as strengthening alliances and cooperation (Sprecher a. Krause 2006) or simply to gain influence in a certain country or region (Sislin 1994). Therefore the "grey” data available for arms trades between the EU’s members and Egypt will provide valuable information towards the relations between the two actors and the motives and agendas in the EU’s external relation process. This data is available on a web-basis from the Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI), who use, among others, the Trend-Indicator Value (TIV) to measure the volume of international weapons transfers (SIPRI 2020a), which will also be used in the following analysis.

Qualitative data from "grey” literature sources such as political statements, agreements, declarations and interviews by EU institutions and officials will contextualise and provide valuable data for the analysis of the EU’s external relations. These dat sets are available from multiple sources. Most data will be provided by the EU’s institution’s websites, with reputable international newspapers also being used as sources.

4 The “Arab Spring” in Egypt

To understand the changes in the EU’s external relations with Egypt and the motives and agendas behind these, it is important to give an overview over the political situation and events that occurred in Egypt before, during and after the revolution and which actors had a role in those. After this, to give necessary context, the causes for the revolution will also be shortly explained.

4.1 Timeline and actors

The "Arab Spring” movement in Egypt, most commonly referred to in the scholarly debate as the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, took hold in Egypt on the 25 January 2011. The movement took hold after similar events as in Tunisia, as a number of young men committed suicide by setting themselves on fire outside the national parliament in the country’s capital Cairo, to protest against the Mubarak government (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2020).

Mubarak had been president of Egypt since 1981. His reign was characterised by an authoritarian style, media censorship, expanding police powers and clashes with Islamic insurgence. A state of emergency, giving the president and his government increased control, was in effect for almost the entirety of Mubarak’s reign. Under his rule the states was officially a democracy but the elections were not free nor fair, often being accompanied by suppression and violence (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2020).

These suicides followed mass popular anti-government protests in a number of different Egyptian city’s but the biggest protest taking place on the Tahir Square in Cairo. These protests were similar to those that had already led to the abdication of Tunisian president Ben Ali. Over the next days the protests and the violence between protesters and police intensified, with Mubarak deploying army units to quell the uprising on January 28. On the 11 of February, after weeks of ever more increasing violence between protesters and security forces the president left Cairo. Hours after this his deputy Omar Suleiman announced the immediate abdication of Mubarak on state television. Control of the country was then taken over by the "Supreme Council of the Armed Forces”, a council of high ranking military officers which was headed by then minister of defence, Mohamed Hussein. They issued a statement that they will give over power to a democratically elected civil government. On February 13 the Council dissolved the state’s legislative bodies and state that a commission will be formed to set up a new constitution which is to be approved by a referendum. Protests continued after an interim cabinet included members from Mubarak’s cabinet and Egyptian army forces cleared the Tahir Square with force, killing two protesters on April 9. On April 13 Mubarak and his sons were detained and questioned. An Egyptian commission found that 846 protesters were killed and 6400 injured, mainly by the use of deliberate lethal force by Mubarak’s security forces. In the following months before the election the country was in huge turmoil. There were frequent changes in the interim government, anti-government protests and violence, clashes between Coptic Christians and security forces and increasing tensions with Israel due to border incidents causing the storming of the Israeli embassy by protesters. On November 28 the first round of parliamentary elections took place as planned. On January 21 the results of the election were announced with Islamist parties constituting a large majority in the parliament. The largest party was the "Muslim Brotherhood’s” "Freedom and Justice Party” which gained 47% (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2020).

This party is the political arm of the "Muslim Brotherhood”. The Muslim Brotherhood is considered the largest and most influential Islamic organisation in the world. Especially in Egypt it was, under Mubarak’s reign, considered the most cohesive and one of the most powerful political movements (Trager 2011). It is a controversial organisation, being condemned by the radical Islamist faction in the Middle east for rejecting global jihad and embracing democracy, while also being condemned by Western actors, especially the United States, for being too radical and fundamental. But the Muslim Brotherhood in itself is highly variegated organisation with many different factions and currents as part of the movement. This makes the organisation’s goals and degree of radicalisation hard to decipher. Therefore it can be argued for both sides, but especially for the Egyptian faction of the brotherhood it seems feasible that it deters the population from using violence, with the organisation becoming an apparent safety valve for moderate muslims. Also due to it having political goals and strategies, the organisation is criticised by more extremist muslims, to be induced to make concessions to the West (Leiken a. Brooke 2007). They however still postulate for an Islamic State, which functions under Islamic law and where the principles of Islam define the government and society (Abed-Kotob 1995). Under Mubarak’s reign the organisation was widely suppressed, including violence against organisation members and mostly prohibited from participating in elections (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2020).

On May 28 the first results from the presidential were announced with Ahmed Shafiq, who served as a minister under Mubarak, and Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the "Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party”, receiving the most votes and them entering a run-off. On June 24 Morsi was declared the winner of the election and president (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2020). Morsi’s reign was characterised by an economic crisis, authoritarian traits, widespread protests and discontentment among the population, and diplomatic crisis. After a wave of popular protests demanding the abdication of Morsi, in July of 2013 took place a publicly supported military coup led by then minister of defence Abdel el-Sisi. The result of this coup was that Morsi was arrested and the "Supreme Council of the Armed Forces”, with el-Sisi as its leader, again took over control of the country. This went along with severe violence on both sides, but most severely against the "Muslim Brotherhood” members in the country, which accounted for more than 1500 deaths. The "Supreme council of the Armed Forces” again implemented an authoritarian style government, similar to that under Mubarak (Roll 2015). This can be seen as the end of political transformation in Egypt in the aftermath of the revolution in 2011, as the implemented military authoritarian leadership is still in place at the time writing under president Abdel el-Sisi. He was elected in May of 2014 as the military’s candidate after an election that, after the "Muslim Brotherhood” was pronounced illegal, saw him unsurprisingly win by a wide margin (Said Aly 2014). His presidency is marked by conflict with Islamist insurgence, suppression of political opponents and accusations of human rights violations (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2019).

The "Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” is the political arm of the Egyptian military. In July of 2013 they managed to emerge as the dominant political player in Egypt after outmanoeuvring and weakening their primary rival the "Muslim Brotherhood”. They positioned themselves as guardians of the revolution in 2011 and the managers of the following political change, which enabled them to slowly gather power and come out as the "winner” of the political turmoil which had Egypt in its grip (Roll 2015).

4.2 Causes

The Egyptian Revolution of 2011, as part of the "Arab Spring” took place due to a number of different causes and predispositions. These causes were mainly of a socio-economic and socio-political nature. For one a weak economy with widespread youth unemployment and poverty alienated many Egyptians (Anderson 2011). Also the authoritarian style government, the denial of basic human rights, the lack of liberal values, an oppressive security apparatus and changes in the demographic profile, with young people making up ever larger parts of the population, played a significant role in the revolution taking place. These aspects were then exacerbated by a further deterioration of the economy as caused by the global financial crisis. This also led to increased food prices. The prevalence of information and communication technology and social media among the Egyptian youth, who took a leading role in the uprising, were also relevant in triggering and spreading the uprising (Özekin a. Akkas 2014). Islamism, with the "Muslim Brotherhood” being the main Islamist organisation in Egypt, also played a minor role in the uprising. The widespread oppression of Islamism, and especially the "Muslim Brotherhood”, under Mubarak, had led to wide discontent among the Islamists in Egypt. But because of the oppressive politics towards Islamists, the "Muslim Brotherhood” preferred a non-confrontational approach towards the regime, with only the youth wing of the organisation participating in the protests (Saidin 2018). Certainly the success of the non-violent "Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia also had a substantial impact on the revolution taking place.

5 The EU’s External Relations

In this part of the thesis the different parts of the EU’s external relations, the different and institutions and aspects that play a significant role in the EU’s external relation formation process with Egypt and the decision making process itself will be explained shortly. This provides information towards which aspects must be covered when analysing the EU’s external relations and it gives necessary context towards the motives and interests behind the EU’s external relation decisions. This also includes the construction of the "Mediterranean Region” by the EU.

5.1 External Relations Policy Fields and Official Interests

The term external relations generally describes "the entirety of the EU’s interaction with external partners” (Bachmann 2016: 32). The main aspects of this interaction are the following policy fields: trade and economic policy, foreign policy, development policy and security policy. The level of inner EU integration and level of authority the EU holds towards its member states in the different policy fields differs (Bachmann 2016: 32 ). This influences the decision making processes in the different policy fields. The level of integration and decision making power the EU holds were both increased and constitutionalised through the "Treaty of Lisbon” in 2009. This treaty greatly increased the collectivity inside the EU, giving the Commission a wider range of decision making capabilities (Pernice 2009), and also had as one of its goals to increase the political capabilities of the EU on an international level, which had until then been sorely lacking (Bachmann 2016: 2). For this the treaty determined the formation of the "European External Action Service” (EEAS), which, as will be explained in the following, plays a vital role in the EU’s external relations policies.

As part of the general EU external relations framework the "European Neighbourhood Policy” (ENP), which was formed in 2003-2004, plays an important part in forming the EU’s external relations with Egypt. It is also conducted through the EEAS and provides an instrument through which the EU conducts its external relations with its direct neighbours, including Egypt, and provides the guidelines for this policy. It provides the structures to conduct external relation policies more focused on the EU’s interests in its direct neighbourhood. The ENP is generally conducted through bilateral "Action Plans” (European Commission 2019).

The policy field of trade and economic relations outside the EU is considered the hard core of the EU’s external action, while also being considered the most integrated field within the EU, as the competences in this regard are almost exclusively conferred on the EU institutions (Eeckhout 2011: 67). Therefore the decisions in this field are made almost exclusively by the "European Commission” (EC), the executive branch of the EU body, which are then to be legitimised by the "European Parliament”, the legislative branch of the EU and elected directly by the EU citizens, and the "European Council”, which represents the respective governments of the EU member states (European Union 2020a). Through this process e.g. trade agreements and treaties are formed and legitimised.


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Geopolitics of the ArabSpring. The changes in EU external relations with Egypt
University of Bonn
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Michael McKiney (Author), 2020, Geopolitics of the ArabSpring. The changes in EU external relations with Egypt, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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