Egypt’s Asymmetric Integration in the EU: The Making (and Unmaking) of a Neoliberal Borderland?

Research output: Working paper/PreprintWorking paper


There is little doubt that the EU has played a key role within the wider constellation of forces pushing several Arab Mediterranean countries on the path of economic reform since the late 1980s. This is particularly clear in the case of Egypt, where the EU has been able to differentiate itself from international financial institutions and main donors in two crucial respects. On the one hand, it has proposed integration through a gradualist approach to economic reforms. On the other hand, within the wider process of multiscalar restructuring, the EU has tried to entrench its own model of integration through re-regulation in its periphery, promoting EU standards in several key areas ranging from agriculture to banking to telecoms.
Following from these processes, Egypt has been asymmetrically integrated in the EU’s economic ‘sphere of influence’, a process which in turn has contributed to three fundamental forms of differential integration within Egypt. One is most obvious and has a sectorial nature, with some parts of the Egyptian economy highly integrated with, and others effectively prevented access to, the EU market. The second form of differential integration is socioeconomic, and has seen outward-oriented sections of the Egyptian elite capturing most benefits of integration, with the wider population shouldering most of its costs. Lastly, differential integration has also had a political dimension, as increased access to the Egyptian economy has heightened the stability bias in Brussels, as well as the reliance on Mubarak’s ruling elite before the revolution, thereby strengthening the marginalisation of opposition groups, both secular and Islamist, and in turn their resentment towards the EU.
While the sectorial dimension of differential integration was clearly part and parcel of the EU’s project, the socioeconomic and political dimensions, though arguably unintended, have made the Egyptian public and its elites in the post-Mubarak era much less receptive to the incentives offered from Brussels. This is suggested both by the preference Morsi demonstrated for doing business with Turkey and Qatar, and by Sisi’s decision to deepen economic ties with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait rather than the EU.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Publication series

NameEUI RSCAS Working Paper Series
PublisherRobert Schuman Centre of Advanced Studies (European University Institute)


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