Rehabilitation of a coup leader: Egypt's al-Sisi German trip

Rehabilitation of a coup leader: Egypt's al-Sisi German trip
4 min read
06 June, 2015
Despite vociferous protests at the visit and sharp criticisms of Egypt's atrocious human rights record, western economic and security interests ensured that Sisi was warmly welcomed in Berlin.
Thousands of people protesting against visit by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Berlin 03 June [Getty]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Germany for his first official visit to the country.

At a joint press conference with the visiting Egyptian coup leader, Merkel voiced criticism of Egypt's use of the death penalty and record on religious freedom, but nevertheless pledged closer economic ties with its partner in the fight against extremism.

At the end of the media briefing, a woman wearing a headscarf shouted at Sisi and called him a "murderer"; Egyptian pro coup journalists responded by shouting "long live Egypt", as both Sisi and Merkel were led out of the room by security guards. 

Sisi, Egypt's former army chief, ousted President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 and launched a deadly crackdown against the deposed president's supporters and secular activists.  

Sisi's bloody campaign left hundreds of Morsi supporters dead and thousands jailed, while dozens have been sentenced to death in mass trials, including Morsi himself who is awaiting a final ruling on his sentence.  

Following the debacle in Germany, members of the entourage accompanying Sisi to Germany were taken aback by the questioning their leader was subjected to and by his hurried exit from the press conference.

Sources closely linked with the delegation told al-Araby al-Jadeed that "the President struggled to find an easy way out of discussing Egypt’s internal affairs. He was embarrassed by questions from the German side on parliamentary elections and human rights in Egypt." Adding that "the delegation did not expect Merkel to discuss these issues in detail and to insist on clear and prompt answers from the Egyptian side." 

“The German side completely understands the security situation and tensions in the region, and how these affect Egypt. But the President did not expect Merkel to hint that economic and commercial cooperation with German

     Sisi told his incredulous audience that Egypt's justice system was ‘independent and fair’

companies might depend on answering her questions on liberties and the court rulings which followed the overthrow of President Morsi in June 2013.” 

Criticism of death sentences

Merkel said Germany always opposes capital punishment and that "under no circumstances, even with regard to terrorist activities, must people be sentenced to death", while also stressing the need for continued bilateral dialogue.   

German parliament speaker Norbert Lammert had earlier called off a meeting with Sisi citing the "systematic persecution of opposition groups with mass arrests, convictions to lengthy prison terms and an incredible number of death sentences".   

Five prominent rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, on Monday urged Merkel to press Sisi to end "the gravest human rights crisis in Egypt in decades".  

But Sisi told his incredulous audience that Egypt's justice system was ‘independent and fair’, and that many of the death sentences including Morsi's were still subject to judicial review.  

"We too love democracy and freedom", he said, but Egypt “avoid the chaos seen in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq, adding that "we cannot allow this".  

The Egyptian coup leader also met President Joachim Gauck, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.  

Rhetoric v commercial interests  

Despite the press conference debacle Cairo is upbeat about the trip, even though sources close to the Egyptian delegation told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the fact Egypt has no parliament at present and that legislative power is excwersised through the executive is making German firms hesitant about investing in Egypt:  

“The problem with convincing German companies to invest in Egypt is not limited to the contradiction between the continuous counter-terrorism discourse and the safe investment environment in Egypt. It also has to do with the absence of a legislative body in Egypt to pass laws on the economy, investments and foreign trade.”  

So is Cairo right to feel that Sisi’s trip was a job well done?

Criticisms and debacles there may have been, but commercial and state interests remain the final arbiter, to judge a business conference attended by Sisi who witnessed the signing of a huge deal with German giant Siemens for gas and wind energy facilities with a capacity of 16.4 gigawatts.   

Siemens said it would build three natural gas-fired combined cycle power plants, which it said would be "the largest in the world" and up to 12 wind farms in the Gulf of Suez and West Nile areas, comprising around 600 wind turbines.  

The deals, the warm welcome and the rolled red carpets all tell the same old story: another bloody coup leader is being rehabilitated and legitimised as the west looks to protect its own commercial, state and security interests, real or perceived.