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Aid for Egypt: "You must have stamina"

Protesters in Egypt rallied against the military on Friday, just days after a massive police crackdown. The tense situation also affects development projects. DW spoke to German Development Minister Dirk Niebel.

DW: German development aid workers were very involved in Egypt. How big is the threat to them now?

Dirk Niebel: Of course we are also affected by the deteriorating security situation, in particular in the greater Cairo area. There, offices remain closed at times and our employees try to work from home. Working conditions are not good, but we can still help the people. On the other hand, we regularly have an eye on developments. I strongly hope both sides will finally end the violence in order to allow a political process to begin.

The violence is continuing. Shouldn't Germany put its development aid projects on hold given the present situation?

We are constantly examining that. We already took measures in the run-up to the current escalation of violence, for instance, a freeze on debt swaps - measures that have an immediate effect on the government. On the other hand, we would like to continue the measures that directly help the people as long as possible: supplying water, offering micro credits for small and medium-sized enterprises. That doesn't serve the government, it serves only the people. The sooner we put an end to that, the more difficult living conditions will become - and they are not easy as it is.

Denmark plans to suspend its development cooperation...

Everyone must decide from one project to the next what makes sense and what doesn't. That is why we want to continue projects that help people directly for as long as possible - because that is how you can strengthen civilian society to a point at which, in the framework of a political process and including all social groups, the conflict can be solved. If you simply put things on hold and leave you rob yourself of all opportunities to influence the situation on site.

We've got a good network - and that includes the political foundations that face quite a challenge - because we have worked in Egypt for more than 40 years. They have good contacts not only in political circles but above all in civilian society, the sciences and culture. These groups must be strengthened to allow a civilian social movement to demand of its own government and politicians that they seek peaceful political solutions instead of beating each other up.

German projects were supposed to help boost democracy in Egypt. Has this type of aid failed?

I don't think so. Building a democracy after decades of feudalism is a difficult and above all tedious business. If we give up as soon as we run into a problem, even if it is as brutal as it is now with the hundreds of dead, we would not have lasting success in any country at all, be it in conflict, fragile or post-conflict. You have to have stamina. That's difficult because in politics you always have to show quick results. But sometimes it just takes longer, even several years.

The international community appears to be at a complete loss - neither the EU nor the US are taking a stance. How do you explain that?

The reason is that in the Mideast and North Africa, Egypt is the pivotal state for the change in the reform processes. Also because of the civil war in Syria, that is, the volatility in the entire region.

Of course people are concerned in view of these big blocks - the Muslim Brotherhood, that is the islamists, on the one side and the military on the other. [There is concern] that they are equal in strength to the point that there may not be a military decision, but a long drawn-out bloody civil war and a destabilization of the entire region. That is why efforts are being made toward a political solution. That is truly the only option to manage this conflict.

Where is Germany in this situation?

We don't support political parties, we support people - individuals who want to get involved in society. They are not supported directly by the ministry, but by civil partners we have on site as well as with funds allotted to private agencies.

Most of all, we want all minorities to participate. We won't have individual projects for minorities because that would stigmatize them. We make sure that minorities are included in the projects available to the public, so no one is excluded.

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