As official meetings proceeded on Tuesday between Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and members of the German government on the president’s three-day visit, German opposition parties express their dismay at their government for receiving the Egyptian president amid increasing human rights violations in Egypt.
Opposition parties and observers point out the hypocrisy between the German government’s condemnation of human rights violations in Egypt and its reception of Sisi, arguing that this move is meant to protect multi-billion dollar deals with Egypt.
German parliament MP Christine Buchholz tells Mada Masr in an e-mail interview that within the four large blocks that make up the parliament, the conservatives and social democrats (who constitute the majority of the government) are supportive of the visit, while two political factions, Alliance ’90/The Greens and The Left, are against it.
“It is simply not credible if the German government criticizes human rights violations in Egypt while rolling out the red carpet for Sisi,” Buchholz, who is a member of The Left, adds.
The Left also issued a statement today declaring that receiving Sisi with no preconditions from highest official levels, and right after a fresh wave of death sentences, is a message from the German government for him to continue on his path.
The statement continues to say that verbal condemnation of human rights violations is not enough, demanding that the German government stop all collaboration with the Egyptian regime immediately.
Alliance ’90/The Greens also issued a statement today titled “Stability versus human rights in Egypt,” condemning the German government’s decision to stand by its invitation of Sisi “despite its repressive policy and despite the highly controversial death sentence of his democratically elected predecessor Morsi.”
Last Month, former President Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to death along with other Muslim Brotherhood members, resulting in renewed international condemnation of Egypt’s mass arrests, faulty judicial processes and mass death sentences in Egypt.
The statement blames Sisi for ruling without a parliament for almost two years, holding him responsible for the state’s excessive use of violence and the passage of repressive laws and decrees. The German government had set the election of a parliament as a condition for Sisi’s visit, but removed this stipulation after the postponement of elections in April.
The statement also blames “Sisi’s repressive treatment of the Islamist opposition” for further intensifying the regional security situation. In all his foreign visits, Sisi asserts Egypt’s role in fighting terrorism in the region.
The statement points out that hundreds of opposition members are currently serving prison sentences in Egypt, and that arbitrary arrests, lethal torture and police violence have become a common occurrence.
Franziska Brantner, a member of the parliament with Alliance ’90/The Greens, tells Mada Masr in a phone interview that the reaction of the German parties to the visit vary between those who support it and those who are critical of it. However, she says that most agree on the importance of being critical of the human rights situation in Egypt.
Mohamed Lotfy, executive director of the non-profit organization Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) was banned by security forces from boarding his plane to Germany on Tuesday to address a roundtable at the German parliament on the subject of human rights situation in Egypt.
As part of the party that called for this session, Brantner is not pleased by the limited extent to which human rights have been brought up during the visit so far.
Alliance ’90/The Greens is the fourth largest parliamentary coalition in the German parliament. The party was formed from the merger of the German Green Party and Alliance 90 in 1993.
The Left was founded in 2007 as a result of the merger of two leftist parties. The party holds 64 of the parliament’s 630 seats, after gaining 8.6 percent of the vote in the 2013 federal elections, making it the third largest parliamentary group.
Sisi’s visit was surrounded by controversy before it started. The speaker of the German Parliament, Norbert Lammert, had backed out of a previously scheduled meeting with Sisi last month, citing human rights concerns due to the postponement of elections, mass arrests and death sentences, and lack of democratic development.
“In light of these circumstances, I don’t know what the president of an elected parliament and the president of a country that is regrettably not led democratically have to talk about,” he told German news outlet Deutsche Welle.
However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Sisi, considering Egypt an immensely important player in the Arab World that could help contribute to peace in the region, Deutsche Welle reports. President Joachim Gauck has also met with Sisi, while Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is scheduled to sit with him later in the visit.
“In my view, the German government tries to outbalance the principal dilemma between the massive abuse of even basic citizen’s rights that we are currently witnessing in Egypt, and the broader interests of regional stability and economic cooperation,” says Jan Claudius Völkel, visiting professor at the EuroMed Studies Programme at Cairo University and a lecturer at the German Academic Exchange Service.
Völkel says that the party’s opposition to the visit is influential, as the parliament holds considerable power in the German political system. However, he thinks that Merkel will still maintain good relations with Sisi.
Völkel expects Merkel and Gauck to express their displeasure with the many critical developments in Egypt, but that this will not lead to any real changes in the relationship between the two states.
“Unfortunately, there are simply too many things at the moment that the German and the Egyptian side have different perspectives on, and we will not find a common position on them quickly, I am afraid. The only concrete outcomes during his visit will most probably refer to some economic cooperation in areas where German technology is strong, such as in alternative energies,” he speculates.
Buchholz believes that the German government’s invitation was mobilized by an attempt to collaborate more closely with the Egyptian regime. This will entail meetings of senior members of the state police and secret services between Germany and Egypt, which she says will take place later this year. She adds that members of the Egyptian state security were even invited to accompany German police last weekend at the German football cup final.
One of the most important meetings Sisi is scheduled to hold is going to be with Sigmar Gabriel, minister for Economic Affairs and Energy and vice chancellor of Germany in Merkel’s Cabinet. Gabriel led the German delegation in Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC), held in Sharm el-Sheikh in March, during which he extended an invitation to the Egyptian president on behalf of Merkel to visit Germany, state-owned daily Al-Ahram newspaper reported.
In a short statement he gave after meeting with Sisi back then, Gabriel told reporters that “the state of the whole region depends on the stability or instability of Egypt.”
However, stability is not the only major concern for Germany. During the conference, Gabriel oversaw a deal and several memorandums of understanding between Siemens AG and Egypt, according to a press release. Siemens AG, the German multinational conglomerate company based in Berlin, struck a deal with Egyptian government to built a combined-cycle power plant and wind-power capacity, alongside a factory to manufacture rotor blades for wind turbines. A primary estimate of the the deal was $4.2 billion, according to different news reports. Days before Sisi’s visit to Berlin, Egypt’s Cabinet approved the deal with Siemens for power generation, now worth $7.8 billion, Al-Ahram newspaper reported.
Buchholz expect more business deals to come out of the visit as a result of Sisi’s meetings with more than a hundred top managers of German industry during the visit.
“These managers don’t care too much about repression in Egypt, as long as their investment is safe,” she says.
She also expects the German government to encourage Sisi to crackdown on immigrants, a policy she is concerned about.
A commentary on Spiegel Online, the prominent German online news outlet, published earlier today, accused Berlin of “betraying its own values and interests in order to facilitate a multibillion euro business deal.”
Brantner is also inclined to believe that the economic incentive is behind the German government’s insistence to go ahead with the visit despite pressure from International Rights Organisations as well as German parties.
“We are in no position to decide on government policies but we will continue to challenge the government on its position towards Egypt,” Brantner says on her party’s position.