For an overview of bilateral relations between Germany and Egypt, and efforts exerted by both sides to enhance and strengthen such relations, Daily News Egypt sat down with German ambassador to Cairo Julius Georg Luy in the headquarters of the German Embassy in Cairo to discuss the current political, economic, and security cooperation between both countries.
Egypt and Germany have enjoyed strong relations that date back years. In 1953, both countries initiated their first technical cooperation projects, including projects for professional capacity building and studies on crude iron and other metal products. In the past four decades, Egypt has enhanced its diplomatic presence in Germany through establishing consulates in Frankfurt and Hamburg, in addition to the Egyptian Embassy.
On the economic side, Egypt is ranked third among the Arab countries trading with Germany. German investments in Egypt are largely concentrated in the fields of small- and medium-scale industries, information technology, car assembly, energy, and land reclamation projects.
Germany was also keen to support post-revolutionary Egypt through several economic projects and security initiatives.
Egypt was once considered one of the most important touristic destinations for German tourists; however, this was prior to the setback that recently hit the tourism sector in Egypt. German tourists were the second largest group of tourists following the Russians, but the Russian aeroplane crash in Sinai in 2015 has left Egypt’s security situation up for discussion amid great suspicion from abroad.
On the other hand, Egyptians are tightly connected to German culture through several historical cultural cooperation projects between the two nations. In 1873, the Deutsche Evangelische Oberschule (German Evangelic School – DEO) was established in Cairo.
This is in addition to the Goethe Institute, which has and still plays an important role in transferring German culture and language to Egypt. Regarding scientific research and education, there is the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which offers many scholarships to Egyptians who seek academic study in Germany.
Moreover, Germany established the German University in Cairo in 2003, which, in addition to the Goethe Institute, shapes bilateral educational relations between both countries.
Throughout the interview, the German ambassador to Cairo explains the state of current political relations and highlights recent endeavours in security and economic cooperation between the two countries.
Could you tell us about your interactions with Egyptian society and daily life since you arrived?
I interact with Egyptian society, the Egyptian way of life, and the Egyptian view of the world everyday here. Each Egyptian I meet gives me a vivid glimpse into what Egypt is and how diverse it is.
How Egyptian decision-makers in government, business, science, or culture view the situation of Egypt right now and their visions for Egypt’s future count for me and have an impact on the way I am forming my own view. Diplomacy is “working in human flesh”—as Bismarck once expressed it quite drastically.
Tell us a little more about the country. After one year, how would you describe it?
Egypt is a diverse country with a very rich cultural heritage. Of course, I have visited many of the country’s world-famous and unique attractions like the pyramids and went on a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan with my family, which we loved very much. Going beyond Cairo is dear to me, because it gives me a better understanding of how the majority of Egyptians live and what their problems really are. Of course, Cairo is the political centre of the country, but I cannot understand Egypt just by looking at papers, statistics, or by discussing intergovernmental or business questions with colleagues and officials in the capital. This is why we as an embassy want to be more present and active outside of Cairo. In November, we will celebrate “German Days” in Upper Egypt, where we will present Germany and the whole spectrum of German-Egyptian relations and cooperation in a coherent way.
What are the media outlets that you and your embassy use to interact with Egyptian society?
An important part of our press work is still through classical media. I give interviews to media like your newspaper. On a regular basis, I invite diplomatic correspondents from different media outlets to press conferences held in my residence. They also accompany me on tours to visit cooperation projects outside of Cairo. This is important to make the volume and the scope of German development activities all over Egypt tangible.
In recent years, social media has become an important part of our communication activities. We have a Facebook page with around 360,000 followers and we just started a Twitter account for the embassy, where we share news about the work of the embassy and information about Germany.
What is your evaluation of the Egyptian-German bilateral relationship nowadays?
German-Egyptian relations date back a very long time, and have endured the change of leaders and political systems on both sides. This underlines the fact that our relations go beyond the political level: one important landmark for the length of our relations is the foundation of the German School DEO in Cairo in 1873. There is a vast range of mutual interests between our peoples. Since I came here, I have noticed with big pleasure the very welcoming attitude of Egyptians towards Germans, their interest in German art, culture, way of life, and work ethics, and German products like our cars. All this finds expression as well in the great demand for visas to Germany. The overwhelming Egyptian interest in Germany is a great asset and makes us proud.
Overall, our relations on the political level are going very well. This is underlined by the high-level visits to and from both countries that we saw this year. We have always underlined that Germany is at Egypt’s side when it comes to its long-term stability and security, even if that was not always fully understood. What we sometimes go deeper into with Egyptian partners is the role that—in our assessment—civil society and human rights play for stability. This is a topic where even within Germany or Egypt views may differ. So we convey our assessment and impressions on the basis of our specific historical experience to our Egyptian partners, just as we listen to Egypt’s views. There is an open dialogue, as it should be between close partners.
The Egyptian government recently announced giant development projects. How does Germany contribute to the goals of these plans?
Germany contributes to Egypt’s economic development in a number of fields. There are ongoing development cooperation projects worth EUR 1.6bn. For example, Germany, which already contributed two big wind farms, will support the construction of a third wind farm in Egypt in the Gulf of Suez, the biggest wind farm in Africa. Just in June, the German minister of economic cooperation and development Gerd Müller and the Egyptian Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr signed an economic cooperation agreement for new projects worth EUR 150m.
However, the majority of economic activities take place on the business side. The EUR 8bn project that Siemens signed during President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Germany last year will make a major contribution to Egypt’s energy infrastructure, which is essential for its future economic development.
Moving to the tourism sector, what is the current status of German tourism in Egypt and how is Germany working to increase it?
German tourists are free to decide where they want to go for their vacations. When a German family is sitting in front of the computer at home and making its decision where to go for holidays, Egypt is just one click away from other destinations around the Mediterranean Sea. So, irrespective of whether security risks are real or perceived, they play a central role in the decisions of tourists. For this reason, it is very important for Egypt to continue working on its security measures, especially at airports. Egypt definitely has admirable and unique tourist destinations, great beaches and resorts on the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, or cultural sites in Upper Egypt. These are all great assets. So I trust that with increased confidence in Egypt’s security, German tourists will come back in greater numbers.
Sometimes, there are complaints from Egyptians who want to visit Germany but have had their visa request denied. Could you please comment on this?
First of all, I would like to stress that over 90% of visa applications here in Cairo are approved. Let me assure you that all visa requests are processed very carefully at our embassy. Everybody whose request for a visa is denied has the right to appeal. Our colleagues in the visa section will then review all of the materials and if there really was an omission, the decision will be corrected. Overall, myself and the head of the consular department really strive to make our visa process as efficient and customer-friendly as possible.
One major reason for delays in the visa process is that applicants do not follow the specific requirements or fail to produce the documents which are legally required in order to receive a visa to Germany. I understand that it is sometimes not easy to get all the documents required from authorities here, but without them, we cannot issue a visa. So I really recommend to apply for a visa as early as possible and to follow the instructions on our website cairo.diplo.de very carefully.
Another factor which explains waiting times for visa appointments right now is the high demand for visas to Germany. In a way, this is a positive sign, because it means that Germany is attractive as a tourist or business destination and a place to study for many Egyptians.
In order to reduce waiting times, we are expanding our visa staff. From February of next year, an external service provider will support the work of the visa section when it comes to short-term visas.
What do you see as the right balance between human rights and security?
From our own experience we know that political stability and security on one hand and respect for human rights and civil society on the other hand are closely connected. The more people feel treated fairly by the state individually or as members of civil society, the more stable a country will be. In the end, we do not create the state for security, but the state creates security and stability for the people. So it is important to put the citizens at the centre of everything we do as a state. This is of course in line with the fact that countries like Germany and Egypt have committed themselves to respect and uphold human rights in their constitutions and in various international agreements.
We fully understand the threats that Egypt is facing, the need to counter terrorism, and to provide security. To assure long-term stability, the focus should always be on providing security for citizens and making sure to provide a framework in which they can freely pursue their societal and private activities.
This is a position that many of our partners in the Egyptian government share, even if we sometimes disagree about priorities in the short term.
There are reports in the local media that claim that there is a conspiracy to destroy Egypt with the involvement of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). What is your take on these theories?
Since I arrived in Egypt, I have not seen a single case of an NGO that was engaged in a conspiracy against Egypt.
What I see is a very diverse civil society, Egyptian and German NGOs which are active in a broad variety of fields, whether it is business, culture, dialogue or social work, all doing very important and beneficial work in this country.
We recently witnessed the decision to freeze the assets of a number of Egyptian human rights organisations and activists, which we regret. I believe that most non-governmental organisations deserve to be appreciated for their work, even if sometimes they are critical of the government.
How are Germany and Egypt cooperating in the field of security?
There are several projects concerning the education of military personnel. For example, Germany offers members of the Egyptian military the opportunity to study medicine or pharmacy at one of the universities of the German armed forces and participate in various training courses. There is also an intense dialogue and regular exchange of views between our militaries on security policy.
In July, our two ministers of interior, Magdy Abdel Ghaffar and Thomas de Maizière, signed an agreement to enhance security cooperation. Our countries share an interest in countering terrorism and other crimes, which do not stop at national borders. There is an intensive exchange between our police authorities in the field of aviation security and migration, for example.
In your opinion, what are the main reasons behind xenophobia in Germany following the arrival of refugees?
The dominant reaction to refugees in Germany is still widespread solidarity—people helping refugees to find housing, or learning German. This is a remarkable achievement of German civil society. You must remember that in 2015, 0.9 million refugees registered in Germany, about two thirds of whom came from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. This is a very large number, even for a big country like Germany.
Sadly, we have also seen cases of xenophobic incidents in a few places, which were reported very prominently and openly in the press. Like in other countries, there is a small fraction of the population which is intolerant of others. It is really absurd and sad that many of those who hold these views live in areas where there are few or no foreigners. So a lot of these people complain about something they have never experienced themselves. In any case, violent acts are not acceptable. The chancellor has made it very clear: there can be no tolerance for either hate or xenophobia. The perpetrators of these acts are investigated and punished. The large majority of Germans, however, has shown a remarkable openness and huge engagement towards these newcomers to Germany.
At the same time, I would like to underline that last year we faced an extraordinary humanitarian emergency. But in the end there is no way around normal visa procedures and people who are entering Germany illegally to look for work will not be allowed to stay.