CAIRO – 12 February 2022: The German foreign minister has emphasized human rights as a basis for cooperation during her Saturday visit to Egypt, while her Egyptian counterpart highlighted Cairo’s significant role in curbing illegal immigration and terrorist infiltration into Europe.
Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry and German Minister Annalena Baerbock both agreed that the wide range of cooperation, including infrastructure and renewable energy, in the past few years have benefited the two countries. Shoukry specifically mentioned education as a field for Germany to explore in Egypt, while Baerbock expressed her happiness that German has become the “second most studied foreign language” in Egypt, replacing French.
“Egypt does not build international relationships on conditions, but rather on mutual respect and interests, non-interference in internal affairs, the Charter of the United Nations, and international norms,” Shoukry said in a split of views during the press conference.
“We cooperate on the backdrop of mutual understanding of challenges we face. When Egypt sought to fulfil its armament needs from Germany, it was to protect its national security and borders. The Egyptian military creed is built around protecting the Egyptian territories and no form of aggression on the part of Egypt has occurred,” he added.
For her part, Baerbock said Germany “will follow a very restrictive policy in arms export… Our goal is that only individual cases that are closely examined be the exception of the restrictive policy,” noting that a law in this regard has not been issued yet, albeit this is the general inclination of the German government, asserting that the conditions of human rights in the future and today will play an important role in the German-Egyptian relationship.
The Egyptian foreign minister noted that “widespread figures and statements” on human rights in Egypt were subjected to “scrutinization” during his talks with Baerbock.
Meanwhile, Shoukry said “without a doubt, a strong and militarized Egypt has contributed to the stability in the region and even in the European framework,” referring to the fact that no vessel of illegal immigration has left the shores of Egypt since September 2016, a result of strengthening the Egyptian military, he added.
This empowerment has had a “direct effect on security and stability in Europe,” as well as on Egypt’s ability to “counter fierce terrorist attacks, the infirtlation of terrorism into Europe, and the reverse the devastating impact on the security of the European and German citizens, according to Shoukry.
“If there is a desire that Egypt’s capability to protect its borders is weakened and accordingly its capability to stop illegal migration to Europe, that decision may be taken by whoever, but we will only find means to defend ourselves and continue to play our responsible role in preserving peace and security in the Middle East, Africa, and the world through positive partnerships and the exchange of interests consistent with the international law,” Shoukry said, concluding the press conference.
Baerbock acknowledged that the German interest in investment in Egypt is huge, saying “the security of investments is ensured, and cooperation is at its strongest when there is stability but also when there is rule of law, so economic cooperation walks hand in hand with political and civil rights.”
“To exploit this opportunity to the maximum, it is important to have fair conditions and criteria for a fair competition as well as guaranteed rule of law,” she said about investments in renewable energy in Egypt and cooperation ahead of UN Climate Chance Conference in Egypt this year.
“I pay special attention to the strong role of the civil society. It is my conviction that this role plays a decisive role to success COP27 in Egypt.”
“We have spoken frankly and with great openness about this topic and about individual cases. I as a German foreign minister and the German government are convinced that security and stability will unsustainable unless people have future opportunities and a chance to participate peacefully in politics and in the society, even if this process requires boldness and costs a lot.”
The foreign minister highlighted that the “critical vision” that must be shared among friends is reciprocal, and that gender-based violence and the low number of female ministers still need to be addressed in her country. She also said that the German focus on human rights is not exclusive to Egypt but applies to every other country as well as her own.
In December 2020, the European Parliament voted for a resolution that called on the EU member states to "establish clear benchmarks that make further cooperation with Egypt conditional on progress in the reform of democratic institutions, the rule of law and human rights, and to mainstream human rights concerns in all talks with Egyptian authorities."
The EP called for putting "tangible improvements" at the center of the next EU-Egypt Association Council meeting, saying that cooperation in the areas of migration management or counter-terrorism "should not come at the expense of continued pressure for human rights compliance and accountability for human rights abuses."
It also called for halting exports of surveillance technology and security equipment to Egypt and implementing full EU export controls because such equipment "that can facilitate attacks on human rights defenders."
However, in October, the Visegrád Group received President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and its four leaders vehemently supported the sale of border protection technology to Egypt, saying their own borders were being pressured by illegal immigration in a way worse than in 2015 and vowing to advocate Egypt in the European Union. They also criticized tying economic assistance to preconditions.
“The security of Berlin begins not at the suburbs of Berlin; the security of Paris begins not at the French-German border. The security of Brussels begins not at the suburbs of Brussels, but at the Serbian-Hungarian border, and in a wider context it begins in Egypt, at the country’s land and sea borders,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a press conference with Sisi.
“Egypt not only needs its border controls reinforced, but the country’s economy should also be stabilized so that local youth are offered opportunities of a good life,” Orbán said, adding that this is also in Europe’s interest.
For almost a decade, Egypt has reiterated in international forums that human rights include economic and social rights, as well as access to education, health, and cultural venues, and other living standards. But Baerbock insisted on Saturday “there is no distinction bet human rights and security and economic development; both rely on each other.”
Shoukry went on to say that ultimately, this group of human rights should create a regular “track of advancement and a balance between rights and duties in a way that benefits the interests of the Egyptian people, which is how success is evaluated.”