Germany and Egypt: Real politics vs. value policies

Germany and Egypt: Real politics vs. value policies

Last week the news about the arrest of the well-known journalist of Al-Jazeera, Ahmed Mansur, quickly went the rounds of Germany. The arrest took place at Tegel Airport in Berlin, according to an international warrant of Interpol, which was issued on the basis of a request by the Egyptian authorities. Mansur was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison in Egypt. The Egyptian Court detected that in spring 2011 Mansur was involved in the torture of a lawyer in Cairo. The question which is asked by many people today is whether the German government will hand Mansur over to Egypt. The incident is quite heinous. And many observers believe that there is a political aspect to the arrest of the journalist. However, today cooperation with Egypt is very important for Germany. A significant aspect is that the arrested journalist is not only a citizen of Egypt, but also a citizen of the UK.

Relations between the Cairo authorities and the Qatari TV-channel Al-Jazeera are absolutely hostile. Mansur is not the first journalist of the TV channel to be in the line of fire of the Egyptian authorities. In February 2015, after a year spent in prison, another journalist of Al-Jazeera, an Australian Peter Greste, was released and deported from the country. Two other employees of the media were released earlier this year on condition they don't leave the country.

Al-Jazeera is thought to be the voice of Qatar, which traditionally supports The Muslim Brotherhood Movement. Its leader, the legally elected president Muhammad Morsi, was overthrown and arrested in summer 2013. In June 2014  a leader of the military circles, Abdul el-Sisi, was elected as the new president of Egypt. According to official data, he gained 96.91% of the votes.

As a result of the overthrow, the whole power shifted to the militarists in Egypt; while political Islam represented by the Muslim Brotherhood was cruelly destroyed. The organization, which came to power due to the Arab Spring, was declared to be terrorist; hundreds of its functionaries, including the former president Morsi, were sentenced to death.

The Western countries, which had welcomed the Arab Spring and democracy in Egypt, calmly watched the return of Egyptian militarists to power and the destruction of the Muslim Brotherhood. Such a position of the US and the EU, which forgot about the central role of democratic values in their foreign policy, was quite explainable from the point of view of their rational interests. According to a political expert from Duisburg University, Jochen Hippler, the Western foreign political strategy is returning to the concept of supporting dictatorial regimes which provide stability, nevertheless.

Egypt, as a guarantor of regional stability, is a traditional and very important partner for the West. Considering the topical problems of Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, today its role is especially important. Moreover, when critical voices against President el-Sisi became loud in the West, the President of Egypt transparently hinted that he could improve relations with Russia. Western capitals understood the hint very quickly.

In recent months intensive development of German-Egyptian relations has been obvious. In March 2015 the Minister of Economy of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel, visited an investment conference in Egypt and met President el-Sisi. Later, the country was visited by the head of the CDU Faction in the Bundestag, one of the most experienced and powerful politicians of the ruling party, Volker Kauder. In May, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Egypt, where he openly stated at a press conference that the main and the most topical theme of the negotiations was the struggle against terrorism. All human rights topics were avoided by the German diplomat.

However, Steinmeier managed to make some progress in reviving the working of Conrad-Adenauer Fund in Cairo. The Fund, one of the instruments of soft power of Germany abroad, was shut down by the authorities due to “illegal activities and illegal financing from abroad.” The head of the Cairo office of the Fund managed to leave Egypt and was sentenced in absentia by the Egyptian Court in June 2013.

It is interesting that laws on elimination of Western NGOs were ready in 2011 under Hosni Mubarak’s government – not long before his overthrow. This law was also used by the democratically elected Muhammad Morsi. And after Morsi’s overthrow and the coming of el-Sisi, nothing has changed in relations with Western NGOs. Thus, none of the three governments which had been replacing each other for four years wanted Western funds to work on their territory, including the Conrad-Adenauer Fund.

Finally, in early June an official visit by the Egyptian President to Berlin took place, where he met Chancellor Angela Merkel. Meanwhile, the German Concern of Siemens signed a major contract with Egypt for $8 billion. The deal requires construction of 12 windmill parks, three gas electricity stations, and training of thousands of professionals for their exploitation in Egypt.

Obviously, in the context of intensively developing economic and political contacts with Cairo, the Germans don’t want to spoil relations with President el-Sisi because of not giving a journalist of Al Jazeera to Egypt. At the same time, giving Ahmad Mansur to the Egyptian authorities can damage Germany’s image; and the leader of the EU won’t do it either. Apparently, the incident won’t influence key projects in the economic sphere, as the rational interests of the two countries are more important than human rights declamations. Most probably, the Cairo authorities will connect the problem of giving Ahmad Mansur to Egypt with restoring the Conrad-Adenauer Fund’s activity on Egyptian territory. Such a scenario will enable both Egypt and Germany to save face, continuing effective cooperation in all other spheres.