It would be hard to imagine much small talk taking place between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi when the two meet on Wednesday in Berlin. The leaders have too many serious and pressing issues to address.
Morsi's first official visit to Berlin couldn't come at a more difficult time. A state of emergency has been declared in three Egyptian cities. Since Thursday, some 60 people have died in riots. And on Tuesday, the country's military chief warned the country could be facing collapse.
The president cancelled a trip to Ethiopia on Tuesday for a meeting of the African Union. But the visit to Germany is important to Morsi. Considerable money is at stake that the Egyptian leader urgently needs at a time when Egypt's economy is in a state of crisis, with unemployment and poverty rising. The country's access to foreign currencies is diminishing and the budget deficit is increasing.
Germany had also been planning to incrementally forgive Egypt's debt by some 240 million ($324 million). But one month ago, Germany delayed its debt forgiveness program as well as the presentation of new development projects. At the time, German Development Minister Dirk Niebel said the delays were a product of domestic political developments in Egypt.
Morsi will likely face the following questions in his Wednesday meeting with Merkel:
- Riots in Egypt: Parts of the Egyptian opposition are calling for early elections. The fact that Merkel is meeting with Morsi signifies that she still considers him to be the legitimately elected leader of Egypt. At the same time, she is also likely to urge him to make concession to his opponents. "Egypt needs a de-escalation of violence and a serious political dialogue," says Markus Löning, the German government's human rights commissioner. "All sides need to contribute to it."
- Relations with Israel: Video recordings taken in 2010 that were broadcast in January show Morsi describing the "Zionists" as "bloodsuckers" and "descendants of apes and pigs." The German government is likely to expect Morsi to issue a response to the video. Good relations between Cairo and Jerusalem are imperative to Berlin.
- Political foundations: Since the revolution, political foundations and non-government organizations operating in Egypt have found themselves in muddy waters. A new law bans organizations from accepting money from abroad. In 2012, charges were filed against employees of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a political think tank aligned with Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union party. The charges included "illegal transfer of money." Berlin is likely to push for clearly defined legal regulations for political foundations operating in Egypt.
- Election observers: On Feb. 25, Egypt is expected to determine when the next national parliamentary elections will take place under the new constitution. It is likely that the Egyptian people will go to the polls in April or May. During the most recent elections, very few international observers were permitted into the country, and then only at a very late stage. It is important to the international community that the coming elections proceed differently to guarantee that they are free and fair.
As such, Morsi's visit to Berlin is unlikely to be a comfortable one. It is likely that he can forget previously planned debt forgiveness of 240 million. Berlin government sources are now discussing a much lesser figure of 30 million. Nor is Berlin prepared to talk about which development projects it is prepared to pursue. Initially, 360 million had been planned for such projects during the next two years.