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Merkel and Sisi: Games of Thrones, the Comic

Egyptian Junta leader Sisi arrived in Berlin to a red carpet reception and full military honours at the Bellevue Palace, where he was met by President Joachim Gauck. Selmin Çalışkan, of Amnesty International and Wenzel Michalski of Human Rights Watch, headed a group of high profile signatories to a letter of complaint to Merkel about the visit. For Çalışkan, Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi has presided over one of the “worst human rights crises in modern history”.

But the German sub-Empire is in trouble, and the giant engineering firm Siemens needed to be rescued in a $9bn deal with Egypt funded by export credits. So why not? The über-Empire itself had already paved the way in December 2014 with Congress’ approval of a retroactive ‘national security waiver’ attached to all aid to Egypt. Just as Sisi had worn Kerry down on his demands for even a fake democracy, Merkel’s patience had also snapped. Couldn’t Sisi have obliged US/ EU State Capitalism with even the veneer of the democratic process they had asked for?

The fact is, Sisi is on his last political legs and cannot do anything other than circle the wagons. That such a weak figure is invited on a state visit to sign a deal, gives you sense of the desperation of US/EU policy, namely that they keep doubling down on ridiculous decisions and that they keep making ridiculous decisions to deal with the consequences of the previous ridiculous decisions. Before going onto the subject of the visit of the Egyptian Circus to Berlin, a little bit on Germany:

The German sub-Empire in dire straights

Before the introduction of the Euro, Germany had been Europe’s manufacturing powerhouse. It made everything it and everybody else needed, and imported only raw materials. So when its export success increased the Deutschmark exchange rate, factory input costs were automatically reduced, and to the extent that this was reflected in a drop in demand, German companies could always afford to reduce prices. Mostly, however, because of their quality, demand for German products was fairly inelastic, and so they mainly struck with their prices, making even higher profits.

It was a completely crazy idea for other European nations to seek to have a common currency with an economy like that, unless they jump-started some kind of Meiji-type industrial revolution to keep abreast. But Germany was way ahead, mainly thanks to an unprecedented debt write-down it benefitted from in 1953. The Euro happened largely because the French énarques (the élite graduates of the École nationale d’administration, IQs 180+), in François Mitterand’s government, thought France couldn’t survive otherwise, but they also dragged Italy, Spain et al into the currency trap, to stop any prospect of competitive devaluation.

The Germans couldn’t believe their luck. To cut a long story short, Germany sucked the industrial life-blood out of Southern Europe, whose governments thought wrongly that the Germans would eat sufficiently more oranges and have sufficiently more holidays to compensate for the industrial debacle that was going to happen. But the Germans don’t consume, they’re too busy making things. If the Italians thought that Ferrari sales would skyrocket, the Germans just made their Porsches better. Greece, the runt of the Southern European pack, went completely bust, and Syriza have now asked the Germans for a 1953-type deal. Fat chance.

But this is a serious problem for Germany. Their main clients are now maxed out. Not only that, but China’s industrial machine is slowly climbing the value-added chain, threatening Germany’s near-monopoly in certain sectors of the world market, like adhesives and turbines. This situation was particularly bad for Siemens. The fact that Germany itself has stopped investing in traditional energy production caused them a double-whammy. In this flat-lining world economy, if old traditional industries were suffering, Merkel’s CDU would nevertheless try to ensure German growth by protecting the neo-colonial relationship its ‘Mittelstand’ (the SME sector) has with Eastern Europe.

Outsourcing to Poland and the Czech Republic is incredibly important for German profitability. However, in regard to Poland, what is clear is that you can never keep a good Polish person down. The ex-underground powerhouse of the Warsaw Pact’s black market wasn’t going to miss the obvious opportunity of a Russian economy next door desperate to find ways of improving its lacklustre industrial performance. It would be a disaster for Germany if Polish firms would, on their own account, start outsourcing to health-and-safety-free Russia.

The only answer Merkel had was for Germany to find a competitor to Poland, which would be a threat to the Poles at the same time as an enticement to them in terms of having a low-cost health-and-safety-free environment, which they could jointly exploit. Ukraine was perfect for Poland because of the affinity of their two diasporas in the über-Empire. For Germany, dragging Ukraine into the EU ambit on false pretences would cause a political rift with Russia, which could then be used to keep all of the Eastern European nations in line. The cynical ploy would not be lost on Hungary’s Viktor Orban though.

But now in a triple-whammy for Siemens – and the rest of the large-scale traditional German industrial sector – the fall-out with Russia, with sanctions and all that, would come as the final nail in their coffin. A very large deal was needed, and Egypt seemed to be the answer. To hell with all the talk of human rights and democracy, the gas-turbine deal with Egypt would be so large that it would be ‘historic’.

The Egyptian Circus comes to town – Sisi’s extraordinary admission

Sisi, like Stalin, doesn’t like economists. The best place for them is the jailhouse. He travels with a troupe of actors, comedians and belly dancers to keep him company and boost his spirits. I don’t think any of this cheery lot had any idea of the unpleasant reception they would receive from Egyptian demonstrators on their arrival at Tegel airport. Anyway, what did he need economists for if Merkel was going to give him $9bn worth of equipment just like that?

The deal needed a state visit, and this was a political problem as human rights chiefs like Selmin Çalışkan were pointing out. The Speaker of the German Parliament, Norbert Lammert, would somehow help the German Nation retain some degree of self-respect by refusing to meet the Junta leader. How this sort of thing supposed to work has always been a mystery to me, but has I believe something to do with what Friedrich Engels famously called ‘false consciousness’. Merkel herself, in her capacity as Chancellor, would have to help this fiction along, nevertheless, by chiding Sisi publicly over his human rights record, since nobody usually hears much from Lammert. What Merkel’s headmistress-like scolding of Sisi did, however, was to coax an extraordinary admission from an embattled Sisi: an admission which would made matters even worse for the German attempts at face-saving.

Under serious pressure since he had first arrived in Germany, Sisi had been stuck in a lift with Merkel for over an hour, which is why their press conference kicked off very late. A dripping and frazzled coup leader, responding to a question from the German press admitted that –yes- Morsi “was truly elected by democratic means, and won with 51% of the popular vote in a free and fair election”, but he added “President Morsi had to be removed by force, because there was no constitutional way for the people to vote him out of office after only one year”.

Make of that what you will, but it seems to me that Merkel’s haste here will come back to haunt her, just as her Ukrainian policies will. The press conference had begun badly, and ended in disaster, with an Egyptian student, Fajr el-Adly, gate crashing the press corp at the Berlin Chancellery to yell murderer!.. murderer!… in shrill female tones at the bedraggled Sisi. The world press churned out the Washington Post’s original headline: “Sisi conference ends in turmoil”, which was adjusted afterwards to “Protester disrupts new conference with Egypt’s el-Sissi”. But the meme was now out there.

The admission about Morsi, however, was actually no slip on the tyrant’s part. Since the death of King Abdulla, and the coming of new régime in Saudi Arabia, against which Sisi was discovered to have been plotting, his support in Egypt has been haemorrhaging. Egyptian oligarchs, led by Naguib Sawiris, had already fallen out with him ever since he had renewed Morsi’s call for the payment of back taxes. They were now plotting with Mohamed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, supposedly Sisi’s last remaining friend, to bring Ahmed Shafik, who had lost the presidential election to Morsi in 2012, and who is in exile somewhere in the Emirates, to power in Egypt.

So the irony of it all is that Sisi – in his admission – was appealing to Morsi’s legitimacy to undermine that of his potential rival. You couldn’t make it up if you wanted to.

Omar Kassem can be reached through his website at http://different-traditions.com/

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Omar Kassem can be reached through his website at http://different-traditions.com/

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