Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Merkel lends a hand to Sisi's propaganda machine


Opinion: Germany lends hand to Egyptian propaganda

June 3, 2015

Although human rights violations are out of hand in his country, Egyptian President al-Sisi has officially been welcomed in the German Chancellery in Berlin: Germany is sending the wrong signal, says DW's Rainer Sollich.

Rainer Sollich 

Nearly 40,000 people are imprisoned in Egypt for political reasons; death sentences are being issued as if they're going out of style. In just the past two years, Amnesty International has tallied more than 740 legally questionable sentences. The government has set its sights on Islamists, but they have also targeted liberal human rights activists and advocates of democracy - people who are hoping for support from Europe and who also deserve it.

It's sending the wrong signal for Egypt's autocratic President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is mainly responsible for the country's grievances, to be diplomatically received on a major international stage in Germany and not even forced to answer critical questions asked by his host. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has addressed human rights violations in talks and criticized the death penalty; however, given the gravity of the human rights breaches in Egypt, her demeanor has been unusually cautious. The German chancellor must ask herself why she even bothered to invite al-Sisi at this premature stage.

Merkel herself had originally stipulated parliamentary elections before they met. Elections are still nowhere near - and at this point, they would probably be neither free nor fair. Al-Sisi's government - by decree - brutally represses the majority of the public.

The president enjoys the support of state-managed or state-influenced media, which often strike an anti-European tone or unabashedly spread conspiracy theories. That's something Merkel did not comment on, at least not publicly. Germany has not openly demanded transparency after absurd prison sentences for two members of the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Cairo were repealed: Sisi must feel heartened.

Egypt is, of course, an important country that cannot be ignored by Germany and Europe - similar to other major authoritarian regimes like Russia, China or Saudi Arabia. Cairo cannot be overlooked in the campaign against terrorism or the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea or the many crises and deteriorating situations in the region. Europe, however, should closely examine whether Egypt can be of any help.

Because the opposite is the case. Unlike Tunisian politics, al-Sisi's domestic policy is not geared toward social reconciliation but instead has a polarizing effect and bears the risk of further escalation in his country. The repression of the Muslim Brotherhood and its diverse political divisions provide fodder for terrorist propaganda. Furthermore, al-Sisi supports politicians in Libya who rigorously reject a broad social dialogue, which includes moderate Islamists.

At home, the president's brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has also led to Egypt no longer being viewed as a neutral peace mediator by Israel since Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not the way contributing to regional stability works.

There were plenty of reasons not to invite al-Sisi to Germany - or at least to postpone his visit. His trip could have been put off until his reform agenda went into effect or an election was scheduled.

Economically, al-Sisi is much more dependent on Germany than vice versa, but the leverage has gone largely unused even though human rights organizations in Germany and the opposition in Egypt are demanding more political pressure be put on al-Sisi. Despite any criticism that may have been expressed behind closed doors, al-Sisi will use the visit for propaganda purposes and claim success for himself.

At least someone has stuck to his democratic principles: Norbert Lammert, Merkel's fellow party member and president of the Bundestag.

He refused to meet with al-Sisi, pointing out the numerous human rights violations in Egypt. On the other hand, Volker Kauder, also Merkel's fellow party member and head of the Christian Democratic Union's parliamentary group, may just have flattered al-Sisi: He extolled the autocrat's sincerity on Egyptian TV, calling him "convincing" and "credible" - as if human rights meant nothing to Kauder and his party.

 Guess which of the two politicians was quoted extensively in Egypt state media?

*Photo courtesy of DPA

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