Is Europe Fed Up With Abuses Of Sisi Regime In Egypt?

The torture killing of an Italian student in Cairo has prompted the European Parliament to cut military lead to Egypt. But the European leaders may not be able to make the break.

Egyptian military parade in Cairo
Egyptian military parade in Cairo
Dalia Rabie

CAIRO â€" Last Thursday, 558 members of the European Parliament voted in favor of a non-binding resolution recommending the suspension of military aid and assistance to Egypt. The move comes in the wake of of the "abduction, savage torture and killing" of Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni in Cairo.

The European Parliament emphasized Regeni's murder "is not an isolated accident," but took place in the context of an increase in unlawful practices in Egypt â€" reports of torture, forced disappearance and the deaths of detainees in police custody.

Regeni's body was found in February by the side of a road on the outskirts of Cairo, showing signs of torture, including cigarette burns, bruises, cuts and multiple stab wounds. The 28-year-old went missing on January 25 â€" the fifth anniversary of the 2011 revolution â€" after he was reportedly headed to the downtown Cairo district of Bab al-Louq, near Tahrir Square.

Schams El-Ghoneimi, foreign policy adviser at the European Parliament on the Middle East, said that while the Strasbourg-based legislature doesn't directly dictate the EU's foreign policy, it does have a number of powerful tools to influence it, as a direct reflection of public opinion from across 28 member states.

"When the elected representatives of 500 million citizens overwhelmingly vote in favor of a friendly but frank warning to Egypt's authorities on human rights, it means Europeans want this," he tells Mada Masr.

Ghoneimi cites meetings between the Secretary Generals of the Arab League, both Amr Moussa and Nabil al-Arabi, and members of the EU Parliament â€" specifically the Foreign Affairs Committee Members. "They came and answered tough questions â€" or tried to avoid them," he says.

Ghoneimi also believes that since the parliament’s legislative powers sets the rules for the EU common market, it impacts the Arab World. He explains that, for example, companies like Google and Microsoft must comply with EU law to do business in the member states.

"The important U.S-EU Free Trade Agreement (TTIP) needs to be accepted by the European Parliament first," he explains. "Likewise if Egypt wants to have any important trade agreement with the EU."

It is ultimately up to the member states to implement the resolution, but Ghoneimi notes that "the pressure is there, their governments depend on public opinion to remain in power."

This is not the first motion proposed by the European Parliament against the Egyptian government. On July 17, 2015, it urged member states to impose a wide ban on the export of surveillance technology to Egypt on the grounds that it could be used to spy on citizens. The ban would be in compliance with the Wassenaar Agreement on the export of military aid and security equipment that could be used to breach basic rights, the resolution added.

Moral compass

Kristina Kausch, non-resident associate at Carnegie Europe, with a focus on Europe’s relations with the Middle East and North Africa, recognizes the weight of the resolution but says that it is unlikely to be followed up in a concrete manner. Kausch says that the EU Parliament acts as a moral compass for the member states, putting out strong statements for them. "However, I don't think the suspension of military aid that is recommended will be adopted," she tells Mada Masr. "Member states will choose to set priorities differently. They will choose to prioritize Egypt’s security role in the region over making strong statements."

Still, Kausch believes the resolution is a step in the right direction, adding that the language is much stronger than it used to be in the past and that it cites other human rights abuses, and not just the Regeni case.

File photo of Italian student Giulio Regeni​

The European Parliament referred to thousands of "prisoners of conscience" jailed for exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. It also criticized travel bans issued against many human rights defenders, including Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid, Hossam Eddin Ali, Esraa Abdel Fattah, Omar Hazek and Mohamed Lotfi.The motion cited deteriorating media and press freedoms, a crackdown on civil society organizations, mass death sentences issued for supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, torture in police detention and prisons, among other practices.

Kausch says the resolution is also something human rights lobbyists can use to try and press for governments abroad to put pressure on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. "This is one step in an ongoing process; little by little international opinion on Sisi is changing," she says.

She juxtaposes the current view of Sisi to when he was elected president by an overwhelming majority, when "everyone in Egypt and abroad were glad that the Muslim Brotherhood were gone ... That sense in the international community is evaporating and he is starting to be seen as just another oppressor."

A delegation from the Egyptian Parliament is gearing up for a trip to Brussels to meet with the European Parliament in light of the recent resolution. "I'm sure the Sisi government is annoyed by it," she says. "But every time a statement like this is issued, these mechanisms unfold but don't mean much."

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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