Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was in Cairo on Sunday and Monday (3 and 4 May) for political talks focusing on bilateral relations and regional issues. After his conversations with President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Steinmeier described Egypt as a partner which played an important role for security and stability in the region.
This was the German Foreign Minister’s first trip to Egypt since his resumption of office. The agenda on Sunday (3 May) and Monday (4 May) included meetings with the Egyptian Government – with President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier also met members of civil society, human rights activists and representatives of various political parties to talk about the current political situation in Egypt.Speaking in Berlin before his trip, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said he wanted “to gain an impression of what point Egypt has reached in the transformation process it embarked on in 2011”. Egypt is facing major challenges, from the conflicts dividing politics following the toppling of President Morsi in 2013 to the socioeconomic situation in the country, with its young, rapidly growing population.
Political dialogue with Egypt
One focus of those talks lay on bilateral relations. Steinmeier had declared beforehand that close dialogue with Egypt was indispensable. On Monday, after his talks with Egypt’s political leaders, Steinmeier said, “There is no alternative to genuine political dialogue with what is one of our most important partners here in the Arab world.”
Particularly in view of the many conflicts in the Middle East – the situations in Libya, Yemen and Syria were discussed, among others – Egypt played a “key role”, Steinmeier said, for security and stability. He went on to underline Germany and Egypt’s shared interests in several areas including counter-terrorism.
On the subject of Libya, Steinmeier called to mind the efforts being made by UN Special Representative Bernardino León, who has proposed a plan to the conflict parties for forming a government of national unity. Steinmeier expressed the hope that the two sides would now follow that proposal, not least in the interests of combating radical forces more successfully.
Egypt proposes solution for political foundations
At the same time, Steinmeier made it clear that “social dialogue” in Egypt was also very important to Germany. He was therefore very grateful, he said, for President al-Sisi’s offer to find a solution to the issues surrounding the status of German political foundations “in the coming weeks”.
Previously, on Sunday, the German Foreign Minister had spoken to representatives of the German political foundations with offices in Cairo. On Monday afternoon, Steinmeier then met Ahmed Muhammed Ahmed el-Tayyeb, the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar. Al-Azhar has been a mosque and university for more than a thousand years. El-Tayyeb is one of the highest members of the Sunni Muslim clergy.
Talks with civil society, parties and human rights activists
Foreign Minister Steinmeier also used his visit to meet representatives of Egyptian civil society and political parties as well as a number of human rights activists. He had previously explained Germany’s stance on the domestic political dialogue within Egypt when speaking to an Egyptian newspaper: “We believe it is extraordinarily important and useful to have political dialogue in which civil society, political parties and trade unions all have their say.”
Speaking on the margins of his visit, Steinmeier reported that Germany had also pledged to take in a number of refugees currently residing in Egypt. He explained to the press that this applied primarily to 300 refugees who would be part of a resettlement programme and an additional 300 Syrian refugees.
The German Foreign Minister emphasised Germany and Egypt’s shared interest in preventing any further spread of “illegal migration and human trafficking”.