By Tim Nanns
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Germany has already sparked strong reactions well ahead of his setting foot in the country. German Bundestag (parliament) President Norbert Lammert refused to meet Al-Sisi during the president’s two-day visit to Berlin, citing a lack of progress in Egypt’s transition to democracy as the main reason.
As head of parliament, Lammert is constitutionally the German state’s number two, second only to the Chancellor. He has always been known to take a firmer stance on certain issues than the government. This is, not least, because his position, relatively low in real power but equipped with the advantage of hovering over day-to-day political business and party lines, allows him to.
Al-Sisi is scheduled to arrive in Berlin late Tuesday, officially being welcomed by German president Joachim Gauck the following day. He is to hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Vice Chancellor and Minister of Industry Sigmar Gabriel, as well as Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
A Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson told Daily News Egypt that Lammert’s refusal to meet Al-Sisi was “very embarrassing”, which would prove the Brotherhood’s narrative of the situation in Egypt to be true.
The spokesperson went on to hail Lammert’s decision as a sign the German parliament was among the “least corrupt ones” for not succumbing to international pressure. Accusations of the Brotherhood executing influence over the European political scene were fabricated, the spokesperson claimed.
Undoubtedly, Germany’s political scene rarely seems united in their concerns about Egypt’s human rights situation and the lack of democratic progress.
Yet in statements issued to Daily News Egypt, the Foreign Policy Spokespersons of Germany’s governing parties were keen to highlight Egypt’s importance in the Middle East. Philipp Missfelder, speaking on behalf of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU – and of which Lammert is also a member), hailed Egypt as “one of the most stable and safest countries in the whole region”.
Meanwhile, Niels Annen, speaking for the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the party of Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Vice Chancellor Gabriel, highlighted the country’s role as a “very important partner for the West in the region”.
Still, he spoke of “rising concerns” about the lack of parliamentary elections in Egypt and the “difficult human rights situation”. Concerning Lammert’s refusal, he claimed that “the government, as well as the parliamentary president, decide independently which visitors they receive”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also took a stance over the visit by sending, along with Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, a letter to Chancellor Merkel, pressuring her to “continue to freeze transfers of arms and security-related items that can be used for repression” and to criticise the human rights situation in Egypt.
Annen said he is “sure that the federal government is going to address the problems and deficits […] concerning democracy and human rights very clearly with President Al-Sisi”. Missfelder was more reserved towards the issue of human rights, only claiming that the decision of “Merkel and President Gauck to hold on to their consultations with President Al-Sisi” was right. He claimed that “only by talks is it possible to find solutions for the numerous [regional] conflicts”.
Omid Nouripour and Franziska Brantner, of the opposition Green Party, struck the same chord as HRW in an opinion article for Daily News Egypt. They accused the German government of “falling back into the bad habits of supporting authoritarian rule”, while rhetorically promoting human rights, claiming that therefore “Western governments have often justly been accused of bigotry”.
The division among German politicians, despite a relatively united view towards Egypt’s internal situation, is how to weigh human rights and ideals against the urging need to bond with one of the last remaining stability anchors in the region.
The respective roles are the same as usual, with the left-wing opposition voicing its criticism of the government’s human rights policies. The governing CDU and SPD, however, one of which was heading every government since the foundation of the Federal Republic, never had any real issues of making close contact with leaders accused of authoritarian rule, especially in the Middle East, including former president Hosni Mubarak.