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Opinion: A detention center for refugees in Egypt?

Engel Dagmar Kommentarbild App
Dagmar Engel
March 3, 2017

Both the German Chancellor and the Egyptian President have said detention centers are not on the agenda - at least not yet. But the issue is not going away, writes Dagmar Engel.

Ägypten Angela Merkel & Abdel Fattah-al-Sisi
Image: picture-alliance/Anadolu Agency/Egyptian Presidency

Foreign policy doesn't usually follow the plan of making a state visit, clinching a deal and leaving. Even though there may be some presidents who like to make believe that it is like this – the Egyptian president certainly doesn't fall into this category. Although, he and his government are up to their ears in difficulties – the Egyptian economy is in a pitiful state, a third of the population is living below the poverty line and discontentment is growing.

But despite this, Egypt is still seen as an anchor of stability in the region. And el-Sisi knows that not only the German Chancellor, or the Israeli Prime Minister, or the Russian President, or the whole region, but in fact the entire world, would agree to things to keep it this way.

Help and prevention

Kommentarbild Kommentatorenfoto Dagmar Engel
DW Correspondent Dagmar Engel

They may agree to some things, but hopefully not anything. It's undeniable that refugees, and other migrants also in Egypt, are living under conditions that should be improved. It's indisputable that a stop must be put to smugglers and people traffickers or they should at least be impeded in some way. It sounds right and proper that Egypt should take back rejected asylum seekers. Creating legal migration possibilities to come to Europe sounds fantastic. Providing funding to create jobs – this is probably the most effective weapon for combating the underlying reason why people flee. This all sounds, in these terms, like an effective preventative approach. There are still not so many Egyptians who want to leave their country and come to Europe at all costs. And perhaps it will stay this way.

Decide and pay

The question that remains is what would be agreed to and how high a price would it be acceptable to pay. Would it still be permissible to back a brutal police state, an autocratic president, and an economic patronage, only because this system promises stability? How much is it worth to keep the Libyan chaos from spreading across the whole of North Africa? How much are we willing to invest to prevent Russia and China from becoming the biggest influence on the region? How much to get Egypt to establish detention centers for migrants - perhaps not now, but later - so that they don't come to Europe?

One of the principles that has ensured the survival of humankind is to learn from experience. North Africa certainly has a few personalized experiences to learn from on offer - like for example Egypt's Mubarak, Libya's Ghaddafi, or Tunisia's Ben Ali. The Europe of the 1840s offers a series of revolutionary experiences: Sometimes it took decades, but in the end nothing could stop the transition to democracy. To choose the right experience and to act accordingly would be the supreme discipline of politics.

The German chancellor said in Cairo that a developed civil society means a lot for development and resilience against terrorism. It's a useful tip. Despite all the experience, as things are presently, there probably isn't much more to say about the current situation.

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