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Germany presses Egypt to strengthen its commitment to democracy

Egypt is on the brink of democracy - or a relapse into human rights violations, according to Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who visited Cairo Tuesday, promising Germany's support in democratizing the country.

Egyptians wave Egyptian and Libyan national flags

Germany sees Egypt as critical to all Arab democracy movements

In light of recent human rights setbacks in Egypt, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has called on the country to remain steadfast on its path toward democracy.

"Egypt, as the key country, will determine if Arab spring turns into summer or back into winter," Westerwelle said Tuesday on his second visit to Cairo since the popular uprising that toppled long-time Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak in February.

Meeting with Egypt's military-backed caretaker government and the country's National Human Rights Council, Westerwelle praised progress the country had made in the field of human rights.

However, he expressed concern about the recent violent dispersal of protesters at Cairo's Tahrir Square and the handling of journalists and bloggers, such as Maikel Nabil Sanad, who received a three-year prison sentence earlier this month for online writings criticizing Egypt's military government.

A protester chants slogans while riding on another man's shoulders in Tahrir Square

The human rights situation has improved, but problems remain

Westerwelle said that Germany was closely monitoring these "setbacks."

Boosting democracy

In a bid to encourage democratization, Westerwelle said Germany wanted to push the European Union towards lifting trade restrictions on Egypt.

"We in Europe will put on our agenda the question of easier market accessibility for Egyptian products," he said at a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Nabil el-Arabi.

Germany has vowed to establish an annual fund of up to 50 million euros ($71 million) to re-enforce the democratization process by training journalists and sponsoring job-skills programs for youth in Egypt and Tunisia.

Earlier this month, the Goethe-Institut, Germany's foreign cultural agency, opened a democracy workspace in its Cairo office, dubbed the Tahrir Lounge. The lounge is meant as a venue for democracy activists to attend discussions and lectures.

Promises of progress

Foreign Minister Nabil el-Arabi accepted Westerwelle's offers of political and economic support, saying, "We greatly appreciate the role that Germany is taking on."

El-Arabi said on Tuesday that Egypt was working toward becoming a "legally constituted state."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle

Westerwelle vowed to advocate lifting EU trade restrictions against Egypt

"Egypt is currently taking the required steps to join all United Nations agreements on human rights and to join the International Criminal Court," he said.

Egypt's military rulers have promised the country a new constitution as well as presidential and parliamentary elections later in the year

After his visit on Tuesday, Westerwelle left Cairo for Abu Dhabi, where he is due on Wednesday to attend a foreign ministers' meeting on the Libyan crisis held by the EU and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.

Author: David Levitz (AFP, dpa)

Editor: Nancy Isenson

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