German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi shake hands following a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany June 3, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)
The first day of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s two-day visit to Germany saw talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel over a large range of issues and an 8 billion Euro deal ($9 billion) between German industrial group Siemens and Egypt.
The deal is to supply gas and wind power plants designed to boost Egypt's power generation by 50 percent, Reuters reported.
It is Siemens' single biggest order ever and gives a much-needed boost to its gas and power division, which is struggling in its home market.
The order expands on memorandums of understanding announced in Egypt in March with Siemens and other suppliers, including General Electric (GE), as Egypt strives to improve its creaking national grid.
Egyptian Electricity Minister Mohamed Shaker said the German electronics giant through the deal will build three power plants in Egypt in the towns of Beni Suef, El-Berolous, and the anticipated new administrative capital near Suez.
Egyptian state news agency MENA reported that the new plants are expected to have a capacity of 14,400 megawatts (MW), with a launch date in 2017.
Egypt has been facing an electricity crisis nationwide with summers usually witnessing frequent blackouts — a problem El-Sisi had said requires major investment to develop Egypt's rundown network.
The deal came during the first visit of El-Sisi as a president to Berlin, which was among the powerhouses that strongly opposed the 2013 ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, which paved the way for presidential elections that El-Sisi won by a landslide less than a year later.
Commenting on Morsi’s toppling and subsequent events, El-Sisi said that, “Morsi took 51 percent of the votes in democratic free elections, but the Egyptian people who gave him that 51 percent couldn’t find a way to take away his legitimacy but to hit the streets.”
Last month, German Parliamentary Speaker Norbert Lammert said he would not meet El-Sisi when he came to Berlin, citing human rights concerns and "a systematic crackdown on opposition groups."
The same topic was brought up for discussion between El-Sisi and Merkel. The latter voiced criticism of mass death sentences mainly handed to Islamists over the past two years.
"We are keen on lives and on human beings,” El-Sisi said during a joint press conference. "We are seeking to foster high human values in the face of tough circumstances."
"The death sentences are mostly issued in absentia, and are then overturned once defendants turn themselves in. Then retrials begin pursuant to both Egyptian and international laws."
"[The sentences] are the first step in lengthy prosecution procedures," the president added, hinting that any move to criticise such measures would be premature.
Since Morsi's overthrow, which came following mass protests against his rule, the Egyptian government has launched a sustained crackdown mainly targeting Islamists and which has seen thousands jailed and dozens sentenced to death. The campaign comes against the backdrop of a mounting Islamist insurgency that has killed hundreds of police and military personnel.
While condemning human rights abuses, Merkel stressed Germany’s comprehensive support for Egypt in the latter’s war against terror. In the future, she said, Germany's support would increase, militarily and financially.
Merkel added that Germany is particularly concerned about the situation in North Sinai, where the Islamist militancy is most intense. Egypt’s relations with neighbouring Israel and Palestine were also discussed with Merkel expressing satisfaction with “the role Egypt plays in the region.”
President El-Sisi's trip to Germany has the potential of being very beneficial for both sides argued Handelsblatt, a major German financial newspaper, citing the finalisation of the massive contract with Siemens.