Former minister Scholz, now chancellor, knew about the business with Al-Sisi but did not warn the Greens. The Grand Coalition kept its secret until the final hours of the legislature.

Merkel’s last gift to a dictator: three warships to Egypt

Just before the end of its mandate, the Merkel government gave a gift to the Al-Sisi regime: three frigates built by Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems in Kiel and 16 anti-aircraft batteries produced by Diehl Defense in Baden-Württemberg, sold to the dictator in Cairo without the knowledge of the German Bundestag.

The scandal that is directly hitting Olaf Scholz just ten days after his election as chancellor has made the headlines in Berlin: as finance minister of the Grand Coalition, he was fully informed about the arms business between Germany and Egypt, yet he was careful not to reveal this to the Greens, who would have blocked the transaction. “A politically calculated move,” denounced Agnieszka Brugger, deputy of the Greens, as she recounted the background of the sale, starting from the most clamorous detail: the former Economy Minister, Peter Altmaier (CDU), Angela Merkel’s right-hand man, informed the President of the Bundestag, Bärbel Bas, about the sale by a letter sent on December 7, only 24 hours before the swearing in of the new “traffic light” government.

In short, it was “dirty business,” in the words of the Linke deputy Sevim Dagdelen, given that the government is obliged by law to inform the Bundestag “promptly” about any sale of arms outside the German borders. It was the weekly magazine Der Spiegel that publicly revealed the under-the-table deal, publishing the contracts approved by the Federal Security Council, which included seven ministers, including Scholz, in addition to Merkel.

The secret was kept by the Grand Coalition until the very last hours of the former legislature, a fact that is more than mortifying for the two leaders of the Greens in the current government: the vice-chancellor Robert Habeck, who said that “this is a decision of the previous government, so it has full responsibility,” while the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, delegated the response to undersecretary Katja Keul: “I can’t imagine that the new executive would have approved this sale.”

In addition to the three Meko A-200 model warships destined for the Egyptian navy and the Iris-T anti-missile system, Germany has also sold a 218-G type submarine to Singapore, again in defiance of the neutrality policy it has claimed in international forums. “It is no longer possible to speak of exceptional cases: German arms exports to these countries are now the rule,” stressed Simone Wisotzki of the Frankfurt Peace Research Institute.

According to the latest official report from that organization, last year the Merkel government issued licenses for arms exports amounting to €5.8 billion, half of which went to countries outside NATO and the EU.

This is, first and foremost, an ethics scandal, as Martin Dutzmann, the Protestant president of the Church and Development Conference (GKKE), pointed out: “Licenses to sell arms have not been legally or politically restricted.” It was a wrong approach, according to Karl Jüsten, the Catholic president of the GKKE, who turned the problem over to Brussels: “If the EU wants to take its foreign policy seriously, it should adopt a regulation on arms control that would be legally binding for all member states. Europe is exporting more and more to countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”

This is heavy criticism against Scholz (himself an atheist), who in the coalition pact promised “a restrictive arms export policy, especially for those involved in the war in Yemen”—but more importantly, against the avowedly Christian Merkel: the GKKE represents an indispensable source of votes for the CDU-CSU.

And the Christian Democrats were forced to attempt some form of justification, namely that “Germany has good relations with Egypt and wants to stabilize the country, not to mention that the export of arms to Cairo had already been approved in the past.” Former Minister Altmaier, in a letter sent to the President of the Bundestag just before his term ended, wrote that he would be “ready to inform the Bundestag,” if it were not for the fact that a few hours later he would no longer be in office.

But the fact that Al-Sisi’s Egypt is in second place in the ranking of exports of war material from Germany was clearly known both to Altmaier and to Merkel, also because the €763.8 million contracts with the country had raised a lot of criticism in the public debate on the war in Yemen.

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