Adenauer Chairman Hans-Gert Poettering: Germany should reconsider its policies vis-a-vis Egypt

Posted in Broader Middle East | 27-Jun-13 | Author: Hubertus Hoffmann

Konrad Adenauer Foundation Chairman Prof. Dr. Hans-Gert Poettering MEP, former President of the European Parliament, here meeting revolutionaries on the famous Tahrir Square in Cairo in Egypt in March 2011: „If there is a lesson that we have to learn from the European history than it is this: democracy does not come over night and it does not come without costs. This experience still gives me the reason to hope. Don’t loose hope!”

In an exclusive interview with the World Security Network Foundation Konrad Adenauer Foundation Chairman Prof. Dr. Hans-Gert Poettering MEP, former President of the European Parliament, talks about his frustration with the Egyptian government and the verdict against his NGO in a political trial dominated by strong anti-Western conspiracy-theory.

World Security Network: Why did a jury in Cairo voted to jail several members of your team of the Christian-Democratic Konrad Adenauer Foundation  (KAS) for several years?  Where are they now? What will you do next?

Hans-Gert Poettering:  The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung was working in Egypt for almost 40 years. Since its beginnings our work has been based on individual cooperation agreements with several government bodies and official academic institutions, such as the Egyptian Cabinet, the Ministry of Youth and several universities. The workers were in possession of social security numbers, as well as valid working visas that allowed them to reside in the country. Furthermore, they annually paid their taxes to the Egyptian government. In December 2011 our office in Cairo was raided and all relevant documents and infrastructure were confiscated. In February 2012 our representative in Cairo and our accountant were charged of "running an illegal NGO" and of "illegally transferring money to Egypt". The latter is considered a felony crime in Egypt and is used to justify the harsh verdict. Although we were able to proof our legal presence in Egypt during the trial, the jury found us guilty and sentenced our former representative to five years in prison. Our former accountant is facing a two-year-prison term. Both colleagues are out of Egypt and save. We will now appeal the verdict and use all possible means to bring it down. Our activities in Egypt cannot continue under these circumstances.

World Security Network: Did  KAS work to over-throw the Muslim Brotherhood leader President Mohamad Morsi or the influence internal politics in Egypt?

Hans-Gert Poettering: Our mission is the promotion of freedom, democracy and human rights through civic education. We always work in accordance with local legislation and in close coordination with local authorities. We did not work with any political party or political grouping in Egypt. There were also no contacts between the new government under president Morsi and KAS, because they were elected in June 2012, after the KAS office was closed by Egyptian authorities. However, the new government acknowledged the work and legal status of KAS by giving us the authority to work under the cultural agreement between Egypt and Germany in January 2013.

World Security Network: When Egyptian President Morsi met the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who heads the CDU as well, in January this year, he was talking soft and promised a solution- did he trick the German Chancellor? 

Hans-Gert Poettering: We are certain that the verdict and the whole trial are based on purely political motivations. The judge justified the verdict with some strong anti-western conspiracy-theory. But it is hard to say who is behind the verdict and who benefits of such an outcome. However, we are convinced that president Morsi and his government are responsible for the general treatment of civil society in Egypt. We expect that he or his government intervenes and make sure that NGOs and political foundations can work freely in Egypt.

World Security Network: Should Germany, the EU and the U.S. stop now financial support for this anti-liberal regime in Cairo? Should Germany or others forgive the hundreds of millions of debt now or under which conditions?

Hans-Gert Poettering: Certainly, Germany should reconsider its policies vis-à-vis Egypt. The existing treaties and arrangements were largely based on the idea of a working transformation and democratization process in Egypt. If such a process does not exist, this approach lacks credibility and will have no impact. The question is, if we can have development cooperation, when those who do this cooperation on the ground get a prison sentence just for doing their job.

World Security Network: What could Germany, the EU and the U.S. do to support the pro-democratic forces and the young people in Egypt?

Hans-Gert Poettering: We should first of all find out, who is still on our side and who shares the same values with us. These people should be supported by offering them scholarships, trainings and communication platforms. This should be primarily done on the international level. In Egypt, the framework for democracy promotion is going from bad to worse. In many cases, organizations being active in the field of democracy promotion in Egypt have now the bitter choice between compromising the fundamental ideas democracy, independence and rule of law or being treated like us.

World Security Network: Is Egypt lost for democracy and just changed from one dictatorship to the next like described by George Orwell in his famous novel “Animal Farm”?

Hans-Gert Poettering: If there is a lesson that we have to learn from the European history than it is this: democracy does not come over night and it does not come without costs. I was visiting the Tahrir square in Cairo in early March 2011 and talked to many young revolutionaries. This experience still gives me the reason to hope.

World Security Network: What is your message as former President of the European Parliament for the democratic movements and the young generation in Egypt?

Hans-Gert Poettering: Don’t loose hope.