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Egypt's al-Sisi begins controversial Berlin visit

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has arrived in Berlin for two days. Given Egypt's crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood opposition figures, the visit is seen as controversial by those who want to see reform in Egypt.

Upon his arrival in Berlin on Wednesday, the Egyptian president was welcomed by German President Joachim Gauck with full military honors at Berlin's Bellevue Palace.

Al-Sisi is scheduled to meet with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier later on Wednesday.

The visit is controversial in Germany. While Merkel's government is keen to maintain a cordial relationship with one of the Arab world's biggest players, other officials, including Bundestag house speaker Norbert Lammert, have been critical of Egypt's lack of democratic development and the mass arrests and death sentences of members of opposition political parties.

In May,

Lammert called off his participation

in the meeting with al-Sisi, telling DW he didn't "know what the president of an elected parliament and the president of a country that is regrettably not led democratically have to talk about."

Kauder speaks to other side

However, Lammert's Christian Democrat colleague Volker Kauder struck a much more conciliatory tone in an interview for Egyptian television.

"I have found al-Sisi to be a convincing and a credible man. In politics, that certainly means something," Kauder, a fierce advocate of Christians' rights in the Arab world who met the Egyptian president several weeks ago in Cairo, said. "He assured me that he wants to lead a democracy in Egypt. Overall, I have a very positive image of him."

On Monday, a group of human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International wrote a letter to Merkel encouraging her make it clear in public and private comments during al-Sisi's visit that Germany's relationship with Egypt was dependent on changes in Egyptian government policy.

A statement accompanying the letter quoted Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Rights Watch and a signatory of the letter, as saying "German authorities are well aware of the terrible human rights situation in Egypt today."

"Chancellor Merkel should speak out against Egyptian government policies like shutting down peaceful protests and mass arrests solely for alleged sympathy with the Muslim Brotherhood," he added.

Formerly a military general, al-Sisi ousted former President Mohammed Morsi in a 2013 coup, which followed major public protests against the elected government. He has since been elected president by a landslide, but only after outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood organization Morsi represented. In turn, the Muslim Brotherhood called on its supporters to boycott the vote, in which 47 percent of eligible voters participated. Morsi currently faces a death sentence, but

plans to appeal

.

mz/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)

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