Sisi, Merkel to discuss illegal migration, German NGO's work in Egypt: Germany ambassador

Menna Alaa El-Din , Tuesday 28 Feb 2017

El-Sisi and Merkel
File Photo: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi address a joint news conference following talks at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany June 3, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Illegal migration and the resumption of German NGOs operating in civil society in Egypt will be on the table for discussion between Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the German ambassador to Egypt said on Tuesday.

In a press conference two days ahead of Merkel’s first visit to Cairo since 2007, Ambassador Julius Georg Luy said Illegal migration and the issue of combating terrorism would be among the key points in discussions, adding that Germany provides support to Egypt in fighting terrorism -- whether on an international or domestic level.

“We, or the EU officials, are in direct contact with Egyptian officials over illegal migration, even if the viewpoints are different with this phenomena,” Luy said, adding that Germany was awaiting discussions on how the issue would be resolved in this field.

According to the ambassador, Egypt was “suffering from the issue just like Germany,” with Berlin troubled by the rise of an influx in refugees in recent years.

“How do we deal with it? I don’t have an answer for that for now,” he said.

In a response to an Ahram Online question over media reports that Germany was supporting an European Union initiative to ease visa procedures for Egyptian nationals and increase economic aid in return of smoother deportations of unwanted African migrants, Luy said he was not “aware of such news.”

“Of course any news of easier visa procedures for Egyptian nationals is happy news,” Luy said.

Luy also discussed the work of German organisations in Egypt, saying that they have been operating in the country for decades and have conducted “great work” that is appreciated by the Egyptian leadership.

“However, since 2011, Egyptians became worried about the operations being conducted by NGOs and we’re currently working on removing any scepticism,” the ambassador said, referring to the recently approved NGO law that restricts the work of such groups.

The 89-article law, approved last November, aims at regulating the operations of NGOs in the country.

Drafted by parliament's social solidarity committee, the law will give the existing NGOs one-year to adjust their legal conditions – instead of six months as it was proposed in an earlier draft last week.

The law, that is still waiting for the president's ratification, stipulates that the president will be exclusively empowered with naming the secretary-general of the National Foreign NGOs Regulation Apparatus (NFNRA) would regulate the operations of foreign NGOs in Egypt and monitoring all their sources of foreign funding.

Human rights activists and NGOs have strongly criticised the law, arguing that it will put civil society under the control of the state.

“The German organisations can’t fall under the NGO umbrella. They receive funding from the German government, yet its administration is just independent from the federal government,” he elaborated.

He added that the visit would discuss the possibility of such organisations working again, adding that Germany has sensed that the “Egyptian side aims to find a solution for the issue.”

“We aim for a fast solution so the organisations would work with full capability,” he said, expressing Germany’s wish for a resolution of the issue during the visit.

The envoy described the visit as a “major political event that resembles a climax in relations, however it shouldn’t be only constricted to this” especially in light of recent visits by officials from both countries.

Al-Azhar, Coptic Church

A meeting between Merkel and Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb, as well as another meeting with Egypt's Coptic Pope Tawadros II, will also be held.

“The meetings fall under Germany’s care of discussions between representatives of religions on its lands,” he said, pointing at an upcoming Islamic conference in Germany.

On Monday, Merkel said in an interview that Egyptian Copts were living in peace in Egypt, and freely exercising their religious worships.

The statements from Merkel come as over 100 North Sinai Coptic families fled the governorate following a spate of killings of Christians by Islamist militants.

In the past month, militants have targeted Christian residents, killing seven Christians in North Sinai.

"No EU state has designated Brotherhood as terrorists"

The ambassador also discussed the Muslim Brotherhood when asked why Germany has not designated the group as a “terrorist organisation” as US President Donald Trump suggested it should be.

“We reject violence for political purposes, however for the designation to take place according to the law, certain procedures have to be taken,” Luy said, adding that they don’t consider the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.

According to the ambassador, no European state has marked the group as such, yet has also affirmed that Germany keeps reviewing acts of such organisations and its pursuit for violence acts.

Egypt’s parliament has been pushing for the designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist group through its delegations.

Egyptian MPs have said in several media statements that a number of parliamentary committees are currently finalising a report on the "crimes of the Muslim Brotherhood" to be submitted to US Congressmen in order to legislate the designation of the group.

“No new investments to be inked”

The ambassador said that no new investments would be inked during the Chancellor’s visit.

“The important ones have already been signed,” he said.

“Germany is indeed interested in investing in Egypt, but the German investor will still have questions of assurances in the sector,” the ambassador said, announcing that 19 major German CEOs will be visiting with Merkel, including German conglomerate Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser for discussions with El-Sisi.

Kaeser will be joining El-Sisi and Merkel in the inauguration of the first phase of a Siemens megaproject to build three new power plants in Egypt.

Luy said that his country was waiting for the investment law to be approved so it can be presented to the investors.

“We don’t want old problems to occur again, where the investor can’t repatriate his profits,” the ambassador said.

He also hailed the Egyptian government’s on going economic reform programme and the country’s liberalisation of the pound last November, describing the step as “bold and courageous.”

“There is another aspect. The negative consequences of such decisions represented in the inflation of goods’ prices,” added the German ambassador.

German investments in Egypt are estimated to total €1.5 billion, according to the ambassador, and provide around 22,000 jobs.

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