Inspired by revolts that have toppled Arab rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, protesters in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen have taken to the streets to demand the resignations of their own heads of state. The European Parliament yesterday (16 February) debated the unfolding events.
MEPs discussed the extraordinary developments in the Arab world (see 'Background'), with Greens/European Free Alliance group co-chair Daniel Cohn-Bendit describing the unfolding events as a "democratic tsunami" encapsulating high hopes for the future but also fears that cannot be ignored.
EU Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle, menawhile, has scheduled an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers for this coming Saturday (19 February).
The gathering will take place ahead of a visit by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to Egypt on Monday and Tuesday.
Ashton will be the most senior foreign diplomat to visit Egypt since its former ruler, Hosni Mubarak, resigned on 11 February following 18 days of massive protests. She has already visited Tunisia, Israel and the Palestinian territories and is expected to travel on to Jordan and Lebanon.
Addressing the situation in Egypt, Füle said the EU executive had taken note of commitments made by the military junta which is de facto running the country to revise the constitution, hold parliamentary and presidential elections, honour international treaties and obligations, and limit the military's role to a six-month period.
Even though "it is not for us to dictate outcomes or propose solutions," the EU "will closely watch the steps that will be taken," the commissioner said, expressing hope that "they will pave the way towards democratic, free and fair elections".
Füle said that in Egypt as in Tunisia, the EU was "unequivocally supportive" of the transformation process that has begun. There is, however, an important difference between the two countries, he pointed out, because in his words the political situation in Tunisia is clearer.
Egypt transactions monitored
He also revealed that the Egyptian authorities had already approached the EU with initial requests, including on "dealing with suspicions of misappropriation of public funds".
According to Reuters, similar requests to "monitor transactions that could potentially represent misappropriated or diverted state assets" have been made to the United States, as well as to Britain and France on a bilateral basis.
However, senior administration officials in Washington and a foreign ministry spokesman in Paris said Mubarak was not part of that request.
Asked by a journalist to comment on developments in Libya, a country where the economic interests of the West have often prevailed over human rights concerns, a European Commission spokesperson said the EU had urged Libya to allow "free expression".
"We also call for calm and for all violence to be avoided," spokesperson Maja Kociancic told the press in Brussels.