Egypt's embassy in Berlin: part of Sisi's oppressive apparatus?

Egypt's embassy in Berlin: part of Sisi's oppressive apparatus?
Analysis: the Egyptian embassy in Berlin has been accused of acting like a branch of the State Security Services, Sisi's political police, filing reports on dissident Egyptian activists and academicians.
6 min read
02 February, 2016
Botros was banned from entering Egypt for life [DW/YouTube]

The recent interrogation of Germany-based Egyptian academic Atef Botros upon his arrival at Cairo International Airport was not the first of its kind, with two similar cases reported in the past two months alone.

The three recent cases have led many people to accuse the Egyptian embassy in Berlin of becoming the latest branch of Egypt's state security apparatus, reporting anyone who criticises the regime in Germany to the authorities back in Egypt.

On Friday night, the Egyptian-German researcher was held and questioned by airport security for nearly seven hours.

Botros, who was denied entry to the country and deported back to Germany, staged a sit-in at the airport after security officials told him he was banned from entering the country for life.

Authorities at the airport told Egyptian website Aswat Masriya that Botros arrived at the airport using a German passport, only to be informed that his name was on a "no-fly list".

The sources added that the authorities requested the researcher to present any paperwork to prove that he was Egyptian, which he failed to do.

Botros eventually had to end his sit-in and return to Germany on Saturday.

Authorities are yet to release a statement on the reasons behind banning Botros from entering the country. However, the decision reportedly followed an alert from the Egyptian embassy in Berlin, which claimed he represented a long-standing security risk.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle in June 2015, Botros criticised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was on his first official visit to Germany at the time.

"Sisi runs a country...whose judiciary service is almost broken or politicised...a country where systematic torture is being practiced inside police stations," he said.

Security reports

Botros, who works as a professor in Germany's Marburg University Centre for Near and Middle East Studies, is known for being one of the founding members of Mayadin al-Tahrir ["Tahrir Squares"], an NGO that aims to extend cultural and educational services to low-income areas.

According to its Facebook page, Mayadin al-Tahrir hosts lectures, events and exhibitions highlighting Egyptian politics and culture, aiming to "enhance the visibility of, attention to, and knowledge about the present situation in Egypt".

These events, activists say, are regularly attended by delegates and diplomats from the embassy, gathering intelligence on the speakers and attendees on behalf of the authorities in Egypt to deal with them upon arrival to the country.

Translation: The security reports made by the Egyptian embassy in Berlin to stop people on arrival at the airport give hope to every informant who wishes to become a diplomat.

Translation: The case of Dr. Atef Botros is the result of turning ambassadors into informants, and state security officials into millionaires who profit from turning everyone into dangerous agents.

Al-Sheikh and Alexandrani

Botros was not the first Egyptian academic to be stopped at the airport for security reasons upon arrival to Egypt.

Last week, Egyptian Deutsche Welle Akademie trainer Walid el-Sheikh was also held and interrogated upon arrival to Cairo International Airport, coming from Berlin.

According to el-Sheikh, who was released a few hours later, he was stopped based on "security reports by the Egyptian embassy in Berlin" about his participation in protests calling for the release of political prisoners, as well as his affiliation to Mayadin al-Tahrir.

In November, Berlin-based Egyptian researcher and investigative journalist Ismail Alexandrani was detained upon arrival at Hurghada International Airport.

Alexandrani, who is currently detained pending trial, was reportedly accused of "propagating false news" and joining the banned Muslim Brotherhood group.

His wife Khadeeja Gaafar said that he was detained in Egypt based on instructions from the Egyptian embassy in Berlin.

'Shameful lies'

Egypt's ambassador to Berlin Badr Abdel Atty has denied claims that the embassy was issuing security reports on Egyptian activists abroad, leading to their arrest and interrogation upon arrival in Egypt.

Abdel Atty argued that decisions to ban travelers from entering the country were up to the public prosecutor or based on court orders.

These lies either reflect ill intents to tarnish the image of a state institution or complete ignorance of the nature of work carried out by embassies and the foreign ministry.
- Ambassador Badr Abdel Atty

In a Sunday phone interview with Egyptian TV channel LTC, the ambassador described the allegations of gathering intelligence reports on Egyptians in Berlin as "shameful".

"These lies either reflect ill intents to tarnish the image of a state institution or complete ignorance of the nature of work carried out by embassies and the foreign ministry," Abdel Atty said.

"Our main job is to take care of the interests of Egyptians abroad, as well as to represent our country and defend its interests."

'Violations on the rise'

Security measures taken against Botros, al-Sheikh and Alexandrani upon arrival in Egyptian airports have been condemned by local and international human rights organisations, as well as activists and public figures.

The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) described the measures against the three researchers as a "violation of freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the right to movement and travel".

"The Egyptian authorities' violation of freedom of expression and opinion has become frequent and on a daily basis," ANHRI said in a statement on Sunday.

"However, the number and severity of violations have become on the rise recently."

The Cairo-based human rights organisation also called on the Egyptian authorities to removed Botros's name from the travel-ban list, as well as to "abandon sharp practices against freedom of expression and thought, and the right to freedom of movement, accommodation, and travel".

The Egyptian authorities' violation of freedom of expression and opinion has become frequent and on a daily basis. However, the number and severity of violations have become on the rise recently.

In December, Human Rights Watch issued a report condemning the arrest of Alexandrani and calling on the prosecutors to drop the charges against him, as they appeared to be "entirely based on his work as a journalist and researcher".

"The arrest of Ismail Alexandrani is deeply disturbing and fits a pattern of Egyptian security agencies arresting people whose writings don't conform to official views," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of HRW.

Dozens of university scholars and researchers from various countries, including France, have signed a petition describing Alexandrani's arrest as "repression of speech" and demanding his release.

The petition described him as one of Egypt's great researchers who has spent the last few years doing "ground-breaking work" on the marginalised areas of Egypt, a blind spot in academic studies of the country, as well as on political Islam.

"His articles were featured in numerous publications and have been presented in international academic conferences and have earned him awards and fellowships. In his work, he has constantly demonstrated a genuine intellectual independence," the petition read.