Peace and stability at risk unless all Egyptians included: German ambassador to Egypt

Sarah El-Rashidi, Friday 14 Feb 2014

Ambassador Michael Bock talks frankly about German policy in Egypt in an exclusive Q&A to Ahram Online

German Ambassador to Egypt Michael Bock (Photo: Al-Ahram).

In an interview with Ahram Online, Ambassador to Germany Michael Bock who has been stationed in Cairo for over four years discusses Germany’s current political standing in Egypt.

Born in 1953 and a graduate of law from Munich University, Ambassador Bock entered the diplomatic corps in 1983 and was posted to Bangkok, Amman and Madrid. Cairo is his first ambassadorial posting. 

Economy: EU/IMF/Regional Aid 

Ahram Online: How is Germany supporting Egypt in terms of post-revolution assistance? What are Germany's priorities in post-revolution Egypt?

Ambassador Michael Bock: Germany is focusing on two issues in field of development and cooperation; one aspect of which is to improve people’s living conditions in all different spheres including water and energy. The second aspect in accordance with the Berlin declaration and the transformation partnership is to help Egypt bring about democracy.

AO: Would the IMF loan enforce real democratic reform or will it function as a short-term band-aid with no real democratic impact? What areas does Germany propose need reform?

MB: With regards to the subsidies every professional knows that the situation cannot go on like in the past given the immense waste, as 80 percent do not reach those they are intended for and the economy cannot afford this enduring expense. It is a very difficult task to change the system into a direction which is sustainable; the first steps are the most challenging because the state cannot simply stop given that a high percentage of Egyptians rely on subsidies to survive. It is a very delicate issue the international community is ready to assist.

Other countries have gone though it with the help of the World Bank. The IMF is not like a bad creditor; it does not want to punish, it only wants to guarantee that the money does not simply go through the chimney.

AO: Along the same line what is your opinion on regional aid packages, particularly from the Gulf?

MB: A lot of Gulf money has been allocated which alleviates the situation for the time being. The Egyptian government has bought some time to keep the streets calm in order to take the right decisions, but sooner or later it needs to take decisions. Gulf aid is not comparable with the IMF.

AO: What measures need to be taken to improve investment confidence in Egypt and tourism?

MB: Investor confidence is more complicated than solving the tourism issue, as investors need to make long-term decisions. Improving security is one but they also look at no tariff impediments and political risks for five years not two weeks. I think right now the main question is whether this government stabilises and brings everyone on board and whether or not the legitimate demands of the population regarding the respect of social wellbeing in terms of health care will be met or not.

In relation to tourism it is the tourists themselves who decide if they want to come. The latest figures indicate that tourism in 2013 compared to 2012 declined by 18 percent; meanwhile figures continue to rise. Security is a huge issue, with terrorism in Sinai and beyond unlike previous years. Fortunately no tourist resorts have been targeted yet. It is a scary situation. With progress I believe tourists will return. I'm telling my people tourist destinations are safe and the security situation is improving.

German/EU Foreign Policy post 30 June 

AO: Do you believe there is a need for inclusiveness of the Muslim Brotherhood in the electoral process and in political life?

MB: I refer to the statements of the new Foreign Minister who is a bit concerned with the Egyptian government’s overall declaration labeling the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists, as he believe this might not be helpful for the country’s future stability. Egypt has many problems to solve; I believe all layers of society should participate otherwise peace and stability risk being compromised.

The adoption of the constitution by an overwhelming majority, in which one third of the Egyptian electorate voted yes, indicates an overwhelming endorsement of the constitution. This marks an important step forward on the road map towards new constitutional order followed by parliamentary and presidential elections.

Recently I visited Cairo suburbs where many of the marginalised masses abide who do not have a future. Families live on less than LE1,000 per month, a social reality for many in Egypt. We really want to stabilise Egypt and help address its problems to ensure inclusiveness of all parties. The people who voted for the Brotherhood were disappointed by their performance; now the challenge is to address these issues; this requires a united population.

It is quite encouraging to hear that in recent days the health system and education subsidies were discussed.

AO: Some accuse the EU policy of its apparent support of the Brotherhood, despite the masses having made their voices heard on 30 June in huge demonstrations. How would you respond to them?

MB: Again this is an old misunderstanding; we Europeans talk to all political fractions and the Brotherhood have been a very relevant fraction. Political dialogue is not a show of support for Morsi to resume power; it is part of the democratic process to engage with all fractions.

AO: What’s your opinion on how the Ministry of Interior dispersed the Brotherhood sit-ins in Rabaa and Nahda last summer; has there been a shift since our last interview?

MB: Many innocent people lost their lives including police; there was another means of handling the matters with less casualties.

What happened in Rabaa breaches the universal order of human rights, alongside other criminal acts perpetrated prior to and after 30 June which all need to be investigated. This includes atrocities like the Maspero and Itahdiya and Qadiseen Two Church bombing in Alexandria.

There is a lot to do. I hope the judiciary will address these issues; there is a big policy of taboo concerning incidents that defame.

AO: You were calling for Morsi’s release when we last met; are you insisting on this?

MB: High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union, Catherine Ashton, has already been granted access to Morsi, although Germany did request his release if no charges were brought against him. My government never said he should be reinstated as president.

AO: If Morsi is convicted how will the German government react and how do you foresee the shape of your foreign policy towards Egypt in this context?

MB: Step by step, accusations have been brought forward we are now waiting for evidence. I do not have evidence. I cannot assess what will happen in the court (and in government) -- that would be premature.


AO: How is the German government dealing with Egypt's new interim government? Was it more at ease in its relations with the former Islamist group, recently labelled by the state a terrorist organisation?

MB: Reasonable relations with the Muslim Brotherhood remain because they were the elected party and we cooperate with every government. We have established relations with the interim government, but it is interim as the name says. We hope that the last steps of the road map are accomplished so as to establish constitutional order, which will not prevent us from continuing good relations.

AO: There was a clear newfound importance of foreign policy in Germany’s 2013 federal elections which historically were determined by stance on domestic issues. How do you see this shift affecting the newly elected government's foreign policy towards Egypt?

MB: We have a lot of issues to deal with in Germany; the new Foreign Minister appointed in December Frank-Walter Steinmeier did not say much about Egypt yet. However stability in this region remains high on agenda. Do not underestimate us; I think our government can focus on both domestic and international issues. Our new Foreign Minister is experienced and has been to Cairo a number of times; he does not need much time to warm up he knows the files he already established connections with his Egyptian counterpart. Do not expect any surprises.

The Presidency and German-Egyptian future relations

AO: Will the EU provide asylum to Muslim Brotherhood members, if they are a criminally convicted organisation?

MB: So far I have not heard of any government granting political asylum to member of the Brotherhood. These are questions addressed to an individual case and extradition agreements and are dependent on a lot of international standards. It is not something you can just explain in a sentence.

Political asylum does not depend on whether Morsi’s organisation is declared criminal; the question is whether he is prosecuted for political convictions. As far as I understand a domestic declaration issued a fortnight ago does not deem each member of the organisation a criminal. Conviction is dependent on each individual case.

AO: Where does Germany stand on El-Sisi running for presidency? Will the new government be acknowledged and supported?

MB: Regarding El-Sisi this simply is a question to be decided by El-Sisi himself and next it is up to the people to decide. Foreign countries do not have a say in domestic decisions -- it is one hundred percent the choice of Egyptians.

AO: Who is qualified in your opinion to run for the presidency?

MB: I cannot give names I think there are many personalities qualified to run, which is a precondition for democracy. 

Western Democracy’s Compatibility in Egypt

AO: Do you personally believe that democracy in its western interpretation can thrive in Egypt?

MB: Democracy is learning by doing and Egyptians had three years to learn, I think we can witness progress yes. I do not belong to the school that does not believe Egyptians are ready.

AO: What is your stance on the fairness and transparency of Egypt's electoral process since the fall of Mubarak?

MB: When we started the interview I discussed the outcome of the referendum as a clear positive signal. Nonetheless there are some shortcomings; though people do not want to hear there was relatively little violence, though one victim is still too much.  

With reference to the general climate in which referendum took place people who wanted to vote no had a hard time, we observed that the opponents days before did not have a chance to voice their concern. I do not think there was enough debate on the content in the constitution; it was a repetition of the 30 June -- people are either pro or against the Brotherhood.

We do not know how many were opposing due to the boycott. An educated guess would compare turnout in different governorates with the turnout a year ago. In some governorates only 20 percent participated, reflected by the boycott, because of very low turnout or boycott in some parts of Upper Egypt, while the old constitution was endorsed by over 80 percent. Also the turnout was lower among the younger population. Do they not teach you at school that you have to take part as a responsible individual in your society or are they simply not convinced?


Political asylum

AO: Has the number of Egyptians seeking German visas – or political asylum – increased since the 25 January and 30 June revolution? Are there any trends amongst any particular minorities, for example Copts?

MB: Germany is part of the Schengen system and compacted visa regulations.  I do not note see any alterations in visa policy in Europe or Germany with respect to Egypt. We have always witnessed a flow of mainly Copts to other countries, the US, Canada, Australia and some to Germany. If people apply for asylum they have to prove political persecution except for very few cases; asylum has not been granted by Germany to any Egyptians thus far.

My observation during my posting for more than four years is that many young want to leave as they feel they have no other choice in order to seek a better future. It is up to the current and impending government to create conditions for people to remain and participate in building their country.  

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