President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s first official visit to Germany is already eliciting varied reactions, creating a tug of war between his supporters and opponents.
The visit is scheduled for June 3, when he will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as the German president and the foreign minister.
Five international rights organizations urged Merkel in an open letter to make clear to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during his visit that Germany’s relations with Egypt are dependent on the latter taking measures to rectify its human rights record.
“We urge you in the strongest terms to make clear in your meetings with President al-Sisi, and in public remarks you or other German officials may make in connection with this visit, that the nature and extent of Germany’s relations with Egypt going forward will depend on the Egyptian authorities taking prompt and concrete measures to put an end to government policies that systematically violate Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law as well as the Egyptian Constitution of 2014,” the letter read.
Signatories include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Front Line Defenders, World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network.
In their letter, these rights organizations highlight some of the grave human rights violations that have occurred in Egypt since Mohamed Morsi was removed from office in July 2013, including the detention of at least 41,000 people, either on the basis of alleged membership to, or sympathy with, the Muslim Brotherhood, or for violating the contentious Protest Law.
The organizations also referred to the “further politicization of the criminal justice system that has resulted in mass trials, in which a judge sentences hundreds of people to death without any regard for individual criminal responsibility.”
The letter mentioned the crackdown on NGOs, prison conditions, discrimination against women, and gender-based domestic, public and state violence.
The rights organizations called on Germany to continue to freeze the transfer of all arms and security-related items until investigations are carried out into the killings of hundreds of protesters by the police and security forces.
The letter further highlighted several points Sisi should commit to, including repealing the Protest Law, releasing or retrying those sentenced in mass trials, suspending the death penalty and eventually abolishing it, refraining from forcing NGOs to comply with the 2002 Law on Associations until an elected parliament passes a new law respectful of international human rights standards, imposing measures to end sexual and gender-based violence, and ensuring that all places of detention comply with international standards.
Last month, German Parliament Head Norbert Lammert canceled a meeting with Sisi on his scheduled visit, due to concerns regarding “the human rights situation in Egypt.”
A group by the name of Tahrir Berlin is also organizing a protest against Germany’s collaboration with Sisi’s regime on June 3 in front of the Egyptian Embassy.
In a statement, the group said Sisi’s regime has been “hostile to human rights and social justice,” highlighting what they deem to be “gross violations” against human rights, adding that it is “abhorrent that the German government is meeting with Sisi.”
“We find it even more outrageous that the German government has decided to collaborate with the notorious Egyptian police, while being fully aware of its brutality and violence. With this invitation and the impending cooperation deals, Germany is fully complicit in the crimes the Egyptian regime is committing,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, accompanying the official delegation traveling with Sisi to Berlin is another “popular delegation,” a group of 150 actors and actresses, media personalities and, most importantly, businessmen.
Elham Shahin, a 54-year-old actress and strong Sisi advocate, stated in an interview with the privately owned Al-Watan newspaper, that the delegation “represents all spectra of the Egyptian people” who, according to her, “are in support of their president and aspire to represent the real image of Egypt to Germany.”
Shahin continued by saying that “those who attack [the popular delegation] are working against the country.”
The popular delegation left early Monday on a private jet from Cairo Airport and included Shahin, 64-year-old actress Yousra, as well as talk show hosts Wael al-Ebrashy, Youssef al-Husseiny and Ahmed Moussa. In photos published today by the daily Youm7 newspaper, dozens have arrived to the airport to join the flight, carrying Egyptian flags and Sisi posters.
Appearing in the photos is Mohamed al-Amin, prominent Egyptian businessman and media tycoon. Amin, who came into the spotlight after he established the CBC Group and acquired other different media outlets months after the January 25 revolution in 2011, is also known for his strong advocacy to Sisi. In a statement he gave to the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, Amin said that the trip is organized and funded by the Chamber of Audiovisual Media Industry (CAMI), of which he is president.
Efforts in support of Sisi’s delegation have also been taken in Germany. Images of a detailed program of how “fans” should welcome Sisi, posted by the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin on their Facebook page, circulated on social media, before it was taken down shortly after.
The program includes a reception at the airport, followed by a show of support in front of Pariser Platz Hotel, where the Egyptian president is staying. Another rally and a musical concert are scheduled for the second day, and on the last day, Sisi supporters have been encouraged to bid the president farewell outside his hotel.
According to one of the organizers from Tahrir Berlin, German police are coordinating the location and timing of the various protests and trusts that they will keep both groups separate.
She added that the Tahrir Berlin group is dissociating itself from other groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, who will also be staging protests at the embassy.
She told Mada Masr that, although Sisi’s entourage is expected to be big, “we are optimistic that our voices will still be heard.”