Merkel Courts Egypt's El-Sisi as Partner in Stemming Migration

  • German chancellor offers more economic aid on Cairo visit
  • In election year, goal is to short-circuit new refugee routes

German Chancellor Angela Merkel enlisted Egypt’s president to help thwart migration to Europe, promising additional aid to the Arab world’s most populous nation as she fends off an anti-immigration groundswell at home.

After meeting with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo, Merkel said Egypt is in a “very decisive phase economically” and pledged a total of some 500 million euros ($526 million) through 2018 in financial aid in coordination with the International Monetary Fund.

Merkel, who’s seeking re-election this fall, needs politically and economically fragile Egypt to keep refugees at bay. Most of the more than 1 million who came to Europe over the last two years went to Germany, where a backlash against the new arrivals has eroded the chancellor’s domestic standing.

“Prosperity is a condition for stability” in Egypt, Merkel told reporters on Thursday after the talks in the capital. “We need to do everything to prevent kidnappers and smugglers from opening another route to Europe.”

Six years after Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in a national uprising, the government under El-Sisi, a former defense minister, depends on an international lifeline to preserve stability. The Egyptian leader has secured a $12 billion IMF loan by raising fuel prices and abandoning currency controls.

‘Great Fear’

“There’s a great fear in the EU that many Egyptians could leave the country, given the desperate economic situation,” Stephan Roll, a Middle East analyst at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said in an interview. “This is a scenario that makes many observers pretty nervous.”

Egypt has cracked down on human traffickers, sharply reducing the flow after about 16,000 migrants arrived in Italy from Egypt last year, according to the German government. Merkel’s goal is to have Egypt restrict departures and to curb migration through Egypt from other countries, including neighboring Libya.

Merkel said Germany will contribute about 250 million euros next year after pledging the same amount as part of the IMF program. The free-floating Egyptian pound marks a “difficult phase” for the Egyptian people, she said.

The chancellor also offered German support to Egypt in dealing with the refugee crisis, as the region takes in millions of refugees fleeing war and strife in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Turkey as Model

Merkel has suggested the European Union seek a refugee agreement with Egypt paralleling an accord with Turkey, which has stanched the flow of migrants entering the European Union even as EU leaders criticize President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for cracking down on dissent. In the accord with Turkey, the EU offered as much as 6 billion euros in aid to help provide for refugees.

Six months before Germany’s election and beset by public anxiety about refugees, Merkel is expanding to North Africa the strategy she used with Turkey. She travels to Tunisia on Friday for talks on restricting migration, taking back rejected asylum seekers and countering terrorism.

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