Sisi visit sows divisions among German leaders

Sisi visit sows divisions among German leaders
Comment: The German president sent a clear message by refusing to meet Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. But Berlin still sees the Egyptian president as crucial to stability, says Sibylle Bandler.
3 min read
02 Jun, 2015
Sisi's visit has provoked angry protests [Getty]
Germany's leaders disagree over how they should deal with Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Chancellor Angela Merkel invited the Egyptian president on his first official state visit, but the president of the German parliament, Norbert Lammert, refused to meet him.

Lammert said he declined due to "recent developments in Egypt that have made it clear there is no democratic evolution in the political sphere, adding there was "no topic left for me to discuss with Sisi".

Lammert, like Merkel, is a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), but unlike the chancellor he is putting human rights and democracy before diplomacy, stability and commerce.

Recent developments in Egypt that have made it clear there is no democratic evolution in the political sphere.
- Norbert Lammert

"I cannot think of tolerating violations of human rights for the purpose of stability," Lammert stressed.

In a letter to the Egyptian embassy in Berlin, Lammert wrote: "The Egyptian regime has not announced a date for the delayed parliamentary elections, is arresting opposition elements - including the former head of the Egyptian parliament Saad Katatni - and has decided to execute a large number of people."

These actions, Lammert added, "do not contribute to the strengthening of stability, democracy and inner peace in Egypt".

Germany cannot ignore the Egyptian people's aspirations for modernity and democratic institutions, he said.

German confusion

Lammert's move highlights Germany's conflicted Middle East policy.

While Merkel's government considers Egypt crucial for stability in the region, and German industry is keen to keep selling its goods there, recent mass death sentences and life terms, including against the first elected civilian president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, are making it impossible to ignore concerns over the legality of the cases and the independence of the courts.

While such human rights violations continue unabated, the number of bomb attacks and assassinations has also risen sharply. But none of these developments - or the extremes of poverty suffered by at least half of Egypt's population - appears to concern the ruling class.

Instead the Egyptian regime presents itself to the world as a role model in the fight against terrorism, as the only remaining titan in the Middle East capable of stopping an apocalypse.

Anyone calling for moderation is denounced as naive, a foreign agent or a closet Muslim Brotherhood member. And so the cycle of repression and violence continues unabated.

Lammert's decision to break ranks with his party and the government was preceded by protests against Sisi's visit, not only from opposition parties but also from members of Merkel's coalition partners.

Egypt's parliament has been dissolved for three years and there is nobody controlling the country's government.
- Karen Maag

Niels Annen, the foreign policy spokeswoman for the Social Democratic party, in an interview with Frankfurther Allgemeine Zeitung, called on Sisi to denounce the death sentence against Morsi as "wholly excessive". Without such a denunciation, he said, Morsi's state visit should be "seriously called into question".

Karin Maag (CDU), chair of the German-Egypt parliamentary committee, told Berlin's Tagesspiegel that Lammert had sent the right signal by refusing a meeting.

"Egypt's parliament has been dissolved for three years and there is nobody controlling the country's government," she said. "The country's justice system is a long way from being in accordance with the rule of law."

Maag stressed that, while dialogue with Egypt was important, it was crucial to signal that what remained of the country's democratic movement had not been forgotten.

Morsi and Katatni's death sentence were due to be confirmed on 2 June - a day before Sisi was due in Berlin - but have been postponed until the middle of the month.

Those in Germany concerned about Sisi's record, within politics and without, now have the time and the chance to tell him what they think.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.