Suspected Egyptian spy in Berlin signals widespread anti-dissident campaign

Suspected Egyptian spy in German Chancellor's press office points to wider targeting of dissidents abroad
3 min read
10 July, 2020
The revelation that a former employee in Merkel's press office is under investigation for spying for Egypt hints at a wider campaign by the Sisi regime to track critics abroad
Egypt's President Sisi pictured with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in February 2019 [Getty]
A German government report has revealed that a former employee in Chancellor Angela Merkel's press office is under investigation on suspicion of spying on behalf of the Egyptian secret service for several years.

However the revelation, disclosed in a report released on Thursday by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, seems to form just one part of an Egyptian state campaign to clamp down on dissidents seeking refuge in Germany and further afield.

The announcement also puts pressure on Berlin to end security cooperation with the Egyptian government, which has become increasingly fraught over the several years it has been in operation.

Egypt's man in Berlin?

Thursday's report revealed that German police carried out "executive measures" against the man in question in December 2019, after he was found to have "worked for years for an Egyptian intelligence service".

The Federal Public Prosecutor confirmed to DW that the man was charged on suspicion of espionage, and that the investigation is still ongoing.

The defendant is known to have worked in the visitor's centre of the government. During his time as an employee, he is thought to have communicated information on Egyptians in Berlin to the Egyptian security services.

Read also: Egypt is targeting 'evil people' instead of fighting Covid-19

However as a mid-level employee, he is not thought to have access to classified security or political information.

The focus of Egyptian secret service agents in Germany includes gathering information on members of outlawed groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Coptic Christians, according to the report, although leftist and activists are also known to be monitored.

The report also underlined that security services attempt to recruit Egyptians living in Germany as spies, targeting them while they visit the Egyptian embassies or when they travel to Egypt.

Widespread campaign of intimidation

Ilyas Saliba, researcher on Human Rights and Democracy issues at the Global Public Policy institute in Berlin, told The New Arab that Egyptian embassy staff have been known to target outspoken dissidents taking part in events in the German capital.
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"As Berlin has become a destination for Egyptian dissidents they have become politically active against the Sisi regime in Germany, the Egyptian embassy has stepped up their presence in public events that discuss human rights abuses in Egypt, especially targeting events in which Egyptians are speakers," he said.

"Egyptian embassy personnel have at times tried to disrupt such events by speaking up and strongly denying any critical points that have been stated, reiterating their government's official view of the issues," he added.

A Berlin-based Egyptian activist told The New Arab on condition of anonymity that during a protest against Sisi's visit in January 2020 near the hotel where the president was staying, an Egyptian man who appeared to have come from the hotel filmed the demonstration and took pictures of everyone involved.

"The terrible human rights record of the Egyptian security forces should have long put an end to the official security cooperation between the German ministry of interior and the Egyptian security forces," said Saliba, adding that he hoped the report would finally force Germany to cut security ties.

"This would be a strong signal to the Egyptian government that such activities are not tolerated."

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