Q&A with German MP Stefan Liebich: Revealing German arms exports to Egypt
Courtesy: Armed forces official Facebook page

Germany’s arms export policy in the Middle East came under fire from the country’s opposition MPs and media outlets this week. In reply to a parliamentary inquiry submitted by Stefan Liebich, a left-wing Die Linke party MP, the German government confirmed that it had authorized weapons and arms exports worth 1.27 billion euros in the third quarter of 2017, 871 million euros of which are due to be exported to non-European Union or non-NATO states.

Egypt is first among recipients on this list, receiving arms exports worth 298 million euros, followed by Saudi Arabia with 148 million euros, Israel with 84 million euros and Algeria with 79 million euros. Compared to France, Russia and the United States, Germany’s weapons exports to Egypt and other countries in the region are significantly lower, but the German public is considered to be substantially critical of exports to countries involved in wars.

Legal restrictions on arms exports — such as the law on controlling weapons of war and the clause on final use, a regulation that requires a warranty by purchasers that delivered arms are not to be re-exported — have been in place for years, but Germany remains the world’s fourth largest weapons and arms exporter.

Major exports include military vehicles, such as light tanks, armored personnel carriers (APCs) and the Leopard 2, a main battle tank produced by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, alongside warships and other military vessels. Rheinmetall Defence, Airbus Defense and Space, the small arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems are the country’s leading weaponry producers. Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Indonesia and Qatar were the main recipient countries of German arms in recent years.

Sigmar Gabriel, the acting minister of economic affairs and former head of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, has repeatedly emphasized his commitment to a restrictive weapons and arms export policy, but reality proves otherwise. While German military interventions abroad are highly controversial in the country, the government pushes to extensively empower partner states in order to enforce its geopolitical goals: securing maritime trade routes and increasing border control and surveillance in the Mediterranean.

The opposition forces pushing against the government’s export policy are composed of the country’s civil society and political parties, such as Die Linke and the Greens. As the Greens are currently positioning themselves to join a potential coalition government, it remains unclear if they will be able to maintain an opposition to Germany’s current weapons and arms export policy.

In 2013, German media outlets revealed that the vehicles involved in the deaths of several protesters in front of the Maspero state TV building in downtown Cairo were Fahd APCs, assembled by the Egyptian Kader Factory for Developed Industries under license of the German arms manufacturer Thyssen Henschel (which has been rebranded as Rheinmetall Landsysteme). The report fueled criticism of the German government for not taking export restrictions seriously.

In the context of the disclosure of the extent of German-Egyptian arms trading this week, Mada Masr invited Liebich to discuss arms trade and security cooperation between Egypt and Germany, the German government’s border control policy in the Mediterranean and the internal dynamics in the Bundestag, the German parliament, regarding arms and weapons exports.

Sofian Philip Naceur: What new information on Germany’s weapons and arms supplies to Egypt can be found in the German government’s reply to your inquiry?

Stefan Liebich: The new information is the figures. In July, August and September 2017, the authorized exports of weapons and arms to Egypt, an ally of Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen, comprised 298 million euros, which is more than six times the amount compared to the same period in 2016.

SPN: Is there any indication that the 298 million euros match the recently delivered submarine built by the German arms manufacturer ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems?

SL: There are no indications in the document itself, but the assumption seems likely. We are currently trying to find out which goods are included in this latest authorization.

SPN: How do you assess the ongoing armaments cooperation of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government with authoritarian states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both of which are involved in the war in Yemen and, in the case of Egypt, also in Libya?

SL: The deliveries are wrong. We, as the Die Linke party, are against the export of weapons and arms in general, but the notion that you should not deliver arms to warring states should be self-evident. If the new German government does not significantly change the previous armaments export practice, then not only do Merkel’s conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, and its ally, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, have to take responsibility for the dead, in Yemen for example, but so do the Free Democratic Party and the Greens.

SPN: In your statement on the new figures, you are calling for the Greens to stand up for a halt of arms exports to warring countries in the ongoing probe and possible coalition talks. But how realistic are such demands, given the size of the Green’s parliamentary bloc and the fact that we have seen no real shift in Germany’s arms export policy between 1998 and 2005 when the Greens were in government?

SL: One should be allowed to learn from past mistakes. I grant that to the Greens too. But it is clear that if they join a coalition and nothing changes, you really cannot take them seriously anymore. Apparently, the Greens already buckled on their goals related to climate change. We hope, for the benefit of the people in conflict regions, that this will not happen with the armaments issue either.

SPN: Can you explain why Germany maintains this arms export policy?

SL: The supply of weapons and armaments in conflict regions has caused conflicts to escalate and become warlike. These wars and conflicts then forced people to flee their homes, because they and their families were no longer safe. If Germany and Europe are seriously talking about combating the causes of flight, then first the arms exports must be stopped. It must not be that people have to leave their home because they are threatened with German weapons. It is sheer cynicism to not stop arms exports and to close European borders, as is currently happening around the Mediterranean, to prevent asylum seekers from reaching Germany.

SPN: As part of the EU’s border control policy in the Mediterranean, Germany is not only seeking police cooperation in Egypt, but also in Tunisia and the Sahel region, while Algeria is being massively supplied with arms. What role do Egypt and the security cooperation agreement signed with Cairo play in this context?

SL: Germany’s Minister of Interior Thomas de Maizière said it very clearly: “We do not want to see new routes for migrants!” The police cooperation with Egypt probably evolved in this context. The German Interior Ministry seemed to fear that more refugees could come to Europe via Egypt and offered “help.” Merkel’s government appears to accept that Egyptian authorities are also cracking down on minorities, such as homosexuals or opposition members, in their own country.

SPN: The German government recently confirmed that a training session for Egypt’s Interior Ministry on internet surveillance and lead by the German Federal Criminal Police Office was canceled because the knowledge provided in such a training “could potentially be used not only to pursue terrorists but also to persecute other groups of people.” How do you assess the police cooperation between Germany and Egypt’s Interior Ministry, National Security Agency and General Intelligence Services, and to what extent is this related to Germany’s arms supplies for Egypt?

Liebich: Generally, I do not oppose the German government’s provision of civilian assistance abroad. But if police cooperation is no longer possible, because concerns are too evident that the knowledge is not handled in accordance with the rule of law, then it is even more surprising that Merkel’s government seems to believe that weapons are not used unlawfully. It is another reason to stop arms deliveries to Egypt immediately.

Sofian Philip Naceur 

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