Opinion: EU must hold Egypt accountable on human rights | Opinion | DW | 09.03.2019
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Opinion

Opinion: EU must hold Egypt accountable on human rights

There must be consequences when a country violates human rights. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, writes journalist Rainer Hermann from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

In Saudi Arabia, more than 2,600 of the country's citizens are in jail for political reasons. In Egypt, that number is more than 60,000 — mainly activists and opposition figures.

Senior members of the Saudi royal family were involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But in Egypt, elements of the security services have over the years killed thousands of Egyptians critical of the government. Many of these murders take place on the street, in prison or by state execution.

Read more: Freedom of expression ranks low in Saudi Arabia

Rainer Hermann, FAZ & Klett-Cotta (Helmut Fricke)

Rainer Hermann is a journalist at the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Only Saudis held accountable

European states focus their criticism on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but spare Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi the same scrutiny. The expression famously attributed to Stalin comes to mind: The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.

The German government has frozen arms exports to Saudi Arabia, including those previously approved. They flow unabated to Egypt. German Cabinet ministers avoid engaging with the crown prince, but in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian president took center stage at a recent two-day meeting between the Arab League and the European Union.

Pressure on Saudi Arabia is completely justified, and necessary if the German government wants to maintain its credibility. But why such a different handling of Egypt?

A lot of that has to do with Saudi Arabia itself. Its war in Yemen is one that Egypt was well-advised to mostly steer clear of, maintaining just a minor role. It is not merely prejudice that tarnishes Saudi Arabia's image around the world. The crown prince has worked to gradually loosen the country's strict ideological mores, but the ultraconservative Wahhabism that has poisoned so much of the Islamic world is a Saudi export.

Read more: Saudi women refugees in Germany still living in fear

Egypt is needed

Meanwhile, the outside perception of Egypt is positive. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Egypt is open to the world's tourists. German vacationers come home with a positive impression.

The EU needs Egypt to hold back a potential flood of African refugees coming to Europe over the Mediterranean. Political recognition and economic aid are the steep price to pay. By contrast, there are no refugees coming via the Arabian Peninsula, and therefore Saudi Arabia is not needed as a partner in migration policy.

For a long time, a blind eye has been turned to the fact that Egypt could itself become a source of refugees, should enough Egyptians decide their country's repression and youth unemployment offer them no future, and leave. Germany has chided Egypt for its dismal human rights record, but such admonishment has fallen on deaf ears — and so far, without consequence.

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