German visit offers Egypt's Morsi no relief from mounting pressures

Morsi visited with a business delegation in hopes of boosting economic ties. But Germany issued a travel warning about Egypt, and Chancellor Merkel said nothing about loan forgiveness.

Tobias Schwarz/REUTERS
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi address the media after talks in Berlin January 30, 2013. Merkel urged Egypt's Islamist president on Wednesday to open a dialogue with all political forces in the crisis-ridden Arab country after a week of violence that has killed more than 50 people.

On a visit to Germany cut short by turmoil at home, Mohamed Morsi saw no respite from the economic and political pressures facing his government, as the German chancellor pushed for the Egyptian president to engage with the opposition and declined to offer relief from Egyptian debts.

During a joint press conference with Mr. Morsi, Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized that she saw open discussion with the opposition as key to Egypt's democracy and political stability, reports Middle East Online. "From my side I made it clear that there are different things that are very important for us," she said. "One is that dialogue with all political forces in Egypt is always available."

"That the different political forces can make a contribution, that human rights in Egypt are observed and that of course also religious freedom can be experienced," Mrs. Merkel added.

And while Western calls for greater political cooperation in Egypt are not new, Germany wields a particularly potent club against Egypt, reports Der Spiegel: some €240 million ($324 million) in Egyptian debt owed to Berlin. Germany had earlier hinted that it might consider forgiving some of Egypt's loans, but Morsi came away from his visit empty-handed.

"What matters now is that the work that needs be done, gets done," [Merkel] said. Against the backdrop of turmoil in Egypt, the chancellor told Morsi that sturdy economic development contributed to political stability. Of course, the reverse can also be true.

The Wall Street Journal notes that boosting Egypt's economic ties with Germany had been a key focus of Morsi's visit. He had been accompanied by numerous Egyptian business leaders in hopes of bolstering bilateral trade, which accounted for roughly €4.1 billion ($5.5 billion) in 2012, according to the German economic ministry. The Journal also notes that, aside from being one of Egypt's biggest European trading partners, Germany also has critical clout within the EU that could help Egypt win further financial assistance to save its ailing economy.

Der Spiegel notes that just prior to Morsi's visit to Berlin, Germany issued a new travel warning against its citizens visiting the Egyptian Museum in Cairo – costly advice for Egypt and Morsi, as more than a million Germans annually fueled Egypt's tourism-based economy before the revolution. "Today, officials in Cairo are happy to attract half as many," writes Der Spiegel. An attack in 1997 outside the Egyptian Museum killed 10 tourists, nine of whom were German.

Deutsche Welle adds that Morsi also faced "awkward" questions about a recently uncovered video that showed Morsi making anti-Semitic comments, calling Jews "the descendants of apes and pigs." Morsi claimed that his comments had been taken out of context, and were directed at Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.

Even as Morsi met with Merkel in Germany, pressure mounted at home to broaden the dialogue between rival political factions in order to ease the ongoing unrest racking Egypt. Agence France-Presse reports that one of Egypt's leading clerics, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, led talks between representatives of key groups, including Saad al-Katatni, the head of Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party, and influential liberal opposition leaders Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Mussa. Members of smaller Islamist parties, Christian organizations, and revolutionary groups also attended.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Salafi al-Nour Party, a hardline Islamist organization, joined the opposition National Salvation Front's call for a national unity government and a revision of the Constitution.

After meeting with leaders from the Front, al-Nour chief Younis Makhyoun said, "We are considered Islamists, and we are from the Islamic current but when we work for the sake of national reconciliation, we have to be neutral ... Egypt for all Egyptians."

Egypt must not be ruled "by a single faction... but there must be a real partnership in decision-making and administration," he told reporters.

Egypt's Salafis have generally been supportive of Morsi's Islamic government and critical of the NSF and other liberal and secular members of the opposition, making their apparent split with the government particularly damaging to the Muslim Brotherhood's political control. The AP notes that the move may be intended to boost the al-Nour party's position in upcoming parliamentary elections by distancing it from the increasingly unpopular government.

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