The Muslim Brotherhood as Partners

CAIRO/BERLIN | | aegypten

CAIRO/BERLIN (Own report) - Mass protests with numerous casualties are casting a shadow over Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi's visit to Berlin, which begins tomorrow. Already last week, while preparations for the upcoming talks were being made in the German capital, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Egypt, against Mursi's Islamist government. The Egyptian president's Berlin visit seeks particularly to promote German business in this North African country. Egypt's economy is, at the moment, in ruins, but, according to assessments by German business circles, holds long term lucrative opportunities. Cooperation with Mursi - and, behind him, the Muslim Brotherhood - was initiated by the German government in the early aftermath of the revolts at the beginning of 2011. This cooperation draws on concepts developed by German think tanks along with US organizations in the aftermath of the Muslim Brotherhood's 2005 electoral success. Experts are explicitly warning against a "positive assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood." "Authoritarian tendencies" within their ranks "are evident."

Positive Perspectives

The Egyptian president's visit to Berlin, which was scheduled months ago, seeks primarily to intensify German business relations with Egypt. The country is going through a serious economic crisis. Foreign investors are reluctant to invest because of the continuation of mass protests, tourism has collapsed, the decline of the Egyptian currency is pushing prices up in the country. However, German business circles are predicting long term profitable business opportunities. "Fundamental economic data and potential consistently point toward positive perspectives," writes the government owned Germany Trade and Invest Agency. "German enterprises should use the emerging opportunities."[1] In a press interview, in the run-up to his visit, President Mursi declared that Germany has "much to offer" - "science, technology, a stable economy." His country, the "most important gateway to Africa," could be "a location for investments."[2] He hopes "that the German role in Egypt and the Middle East will grow - economically and politically," announced Mursi. "We are moving toward a strong relationship with Germany, particularly in the field of technology transfer, especially in development and research." The aspired strong economic position, of course, would be linked to considerable political influence.

Active Support

A shadow is being cast on Mursi's visit to Berlin by mass protests against his Islamic government, which again claimed numerous casualties last week. After a rather long interruption, protests, sparked by Mursi's quasi-dictatorial usurpation of full powers, flared up again toward the end of 2012. Mursi had, in effect, disempowered the country's system of justice. The protests are also directed against Egypt's new constitution, passed in mid-December by a majority of Islamists - after all the liberal and Christian delegates had walked out of the constitutional assembly in loud protest. The constitution is criticized for its loopholes allowing discrimination against women and restrictions on the freedom of the press and religion.[3] At the height of protests in December, the boulevard press in Germany was reporting that Mursi's planned visit to Berlin could be "problematic," "because no one knew, how many more protesters would be killed by then in Egypt."[4] Following the demonstrations of the past few days, where numerous people were killed, German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle declared that Germany is prepared "to actively support" Egypt's "transformation process." "President Mursi's visit to Berlin, in the next few days," offers therefore "a very good opportunity for intensive consultations."[5]

Dialogue Rather than Isolation

However, after many years of the so-called war on terror, it is quite surprising that Berlin - and the West in general - is siding with Islamist forces in the current battle between Mursi and his various rivals. Considerations leading to this alliance date back to the last decade. Following the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's 2005 electoral success, western think tanks began discussing whether it would be feasible to permanently exclude Islamists, or if it should not be seriously considered to keep the option open for an arrangement of power with them. This, for example, was discussed by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) and the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) in their "Transatlantic Foreign Policy Discourse" 2006 and 2007. An SWP study, which was published in 2007, concluded, "isolating the Muslim Brotherhood" is "no option." Instead, "communication" should be initiated and the Egyptian Islamists' "mistrust" towards the West could be "dissipated in forums through dialogue."[6] In a series of publications, German government advisors pleaded, at the time, for closer cooperation with Islamist forces. They suggested that it would be possible to stabilize together the situation in the Arab world without loss of power. The US think tanks' considerations were identical.

Too Weak

Berlin took up these considerations in early 2011. During the course of the Arab revolt, it quickly became clear that the liberal urban forces, who had dominated Western media coverage, would not be able to prevail. It soon became evident that the "protesting youth did not have the strength and perseverance to organize their interests," according to a report written by the chair of the CDU affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Hans-Gert Pöttering. At the time, Pöttering was holding numerous talks in Cairo.[7] Berlin remained in contact with the liberal forces - for example placing the "Tahrir-Lounge" facilities on Tahrir Square at their disposal - while preparing, at the same time, cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[8]) After all, from Berlin's perspective, securing its own influence was essential. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle began "to publically present this new strategy" in November 2011, by "confirming that the federal government established contacts to the Muslim Brotherhood," according to the Middle East expert Guido Steinberg (SWP).[9] German cooperation with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Islamist AKP Party was referred to as a model.[10]

Authoritarian Tendencies at the Nile

Mursi's visit to Berlin over the next few days is the intermediate result of this cooperation. While the masses in Cairo are demonstrating against his Islamist course, the German government will negotiate the enhancement of economic relations and political cooperation with Mursi. In a current analysis, experts warn, for example, "the positive assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood and other non-military Islamists" could "clearly be premature." According to the author - Middle East expert Guido Steinberg from the Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) - it cannot yet be predicted "whether the Muslim Brotherhood can be integrated into a stable democratic system in Egypt" or if they would rather try to "eliminate their rivals." Steinberg writes, "authoritarian tendencies are just as evident in the country at the Nile, as in Turkey, so often praised as a model."[11] However, such tendencies have never prevented Berlin from cooperation - if the respective authoritarian regime was willing to comply with the most important German demands. Why should Egypt be an exception?

Background information on Germany's cooperation with the Islamists forces can be found here: Not the More Liberal Order.

[1] Wirtschaftstrends Jahreswechsel 2012/13 - Ägypten; www.gtai.de 19.12.2012
[2] "Wir wollen keinen Gottesstaat"; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 19.01.2013
[3] see also Dem Westen zugewandt
[4] Wie soll Deutschland Präsident Mursi empfangen? www.bild.de 09.12.2012
[5] Ägypten kommt nicht zur Ruhe; www.heute.de 27.01.2013
[6] Muriel Asseburg (Hg.): Moderate Islamisten als Reformakteure. Rahmenbedingungen und programmatischer Wandel, SWP-Studie S5, Februar 2007
[7] Hans-Gert Pöttering: Vorwort, in: Sigrid Faath (Hg.): Islamische Akteure in Nordafrika, Sankt Augustin 2012
[8] see also Dem Westen zugewandt
[9] Guido Steinberg: Deutschland und die Diktatoren. Berlins Politik gegenüber der arabischen Welt ist korrekturbedürftig, Internationale Politik 1/2013
[10] see also The Turkish Model
[11] Guido Steinberg: Deutschland und die Diktatoren. Berlins Politik gegenüber der arabischen Welt ist korrekturbedürftig, Internationale Politik 1/2013