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Egypt: Germany to link arms sales with human rights record, says foreign minister

For three consecutive years, Egypt has been the top recipient of German arms despite concerns about President Sisi's human rights abuses
Germany's foreign minister Annalena Baerbock at a news conference with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry (not pictured) in Cairo, Egypt, 12 February 2022 (Reuters)

Germany's foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said on Saturday that human rights criteria will play a role in her government's decision to sell arms to allies, including Egypt.

Baerbock made the comments during a press conference with her Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in the last leg of her first visit to the Middle East after the coalition government came to power in December.

The coalition government, which includes Baerbock's Green party along with the centre-left Social Democrats and the neo-liberal Free Democrats (FDP), has vowed to reduce arms sales to countries outside the EU and Nato. 

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The top German diplomat said that a bill due to be introduced later this year will stipulate no exceptions to the "restrictive policy" of arms exports, except in justified individual cases, and after a careful review.

"The human rights situation already plays an important role here," she pointed out, adding that "this will also have an impact on countries that have so far been major recipients of German arms exports." 

Omid Nouripour, a Green Party politician, recently told the German news agency that arms exports to Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be withheld.

"There are more than 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt, a double-digit number of prisons have been newly built for this purpose," said Nouripour.

Baerbock also met with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo, and said they discussed the human rights situation, without providing details, the German news channel DW reported.

In the last three years, Egypt has been the top recipient of German arms sales globally. 

In 2021, sales to Egypt boosted Germany's total record exports of €9.35bn ($10.65bn), up by 61 percent from the previous year.

A significant part of the latest sales were maritime and air defence weapons to Egypt, AP reported last month. Total German arms sales to Egypt in 2021 amounted to 4.3 billion.

In response to Baerbock's remarks, Shoukry said that a strong Egyptian military is crucial for the security and stability of Europe.

"What the navy has done in impeding any kind of illegal immigration since September 2016 to Europe, I think, is of the utmost interest to our partners in Europe," he said during Saturday's press conference.

Crackdown on human rights

Western arms exports to the Egyptian government have been condemned by international rights groups as a green light for more human rights abuses. 

Human Rights Watch has accused Sisi of overseeing the worst crackdown on human rights in the country's modern history, including mass killings of protesters opposed to his coup in 2013, and subsequent repression of peaceful opposition after Sisi became president in 2014.

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The German foreign ministry in December issued a statement denouncing the sentencing of three Egyptian activists to five years in prison, which Cairo rejected as "unacceptable and unjustified meddling in internal affairs".

Earlier in February, close to 200 frontline European politicians signed a letter calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt to address the country's "human rights crisis".

The letter urged the UNHRC to take "resolute action" ahead of the council's upcoming session in March.

It accused the international community of a "persistent failure to take any meaningful action to address Egypt's human rights crisis."

"This failure, along with continued support to the Egyptian government and reluctance to even speak up against pervasive abuses, has only deepened the Egyptian authorities' sense of impunity," it said.

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