Annalena Baerbock was supposed to travel to the Middle East a few weeks ago, but the new German diplomat had to postpone her trip several times due to the situation in Ukraine. Baerbock, of the Greens, finally traveled this week to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Egypt. At all of her stops, she spoke about human rights and the Middle East peace process, reiterating Germany’s support for a two-state solution. With each day, however, there was a growing sense that she was in the wrong place.
Russia had already built up troops on the Ukrainian border by the time it landed in Israel. Then, in Amman, his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, specified that the crisis could have serious consequences for his country if it worsened. Jordan, which is one of the countries in the region that hosts the most refugees, receives considerable financial support from Germany and other countries. Safadi said a war in Europe would be a disaster for the future of the refugees and the whole region.
Baerbock visited a refugee camp in Jordan
In Cairo, the last leg of the foreign minister’s journey, news from Berlin took over. In his joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Hassan Shoukri, Baerbock called on German citizens to leave Ukraine. “At this very moment, a meeting is taking place at the Foreign Ministry with all relevant security departments and authorities,” she said.
She said the number of diplomats at the German embassy in Kyiv would be reduced, as would staff at German organizations such as GIZ and the KfW development bank. Including teachers and family members, around 600 people could be directly affected. Baerbock also announced that the German consulate in Dnipro, eastern Ukraine, would be “temporarily moved to Lviv” in the west.
Human rights, climate
Despite all the distractions from Europe, the Minister of Foreign Affairs persevered with her planned bilateral program in the Middle East, as expected of her by Germany’s partners. She discussed topics close to her heart: human rights, climate change, women’s rights. In Egypt, she called on the government to respect human rights and said she spoke “openly and honestly” about the situation with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Since he came to power, the persecution of government opponents has increased markedly: 60,000 people have been arrested for political reasons.
Baerbock discussed cooperation on climate change with his Jordanian counterpart
Both in Jordan and Egypt, the German Foreign Minister explored the possibilities of cooperation on global warming and environmental protection. Egypt will host the 2022 international climate conference in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in November. The correlations between human rights and global warming will surely come to light.
In each of the countries she visited, Baerbock also met with representatives of NGOs and civil society.
German arms exports
Another sensitive topic, arms sales, has come up repeatedly, including in Egypt, which is the country to which the German arms industry exports the most arms. In 2021, Egypt purchased more than 4 billion euros worth of weapons and defense systems. By comparison, the United States, a NATO ally, imported about a third of that amount from Germany.
Baerbock said the new government would soon review the “restrictive policy” on arms exports more carefully. She said exceptions would only be possible in “well-justified individual cases and after careful consideration”.
“Of course, this will also affect the countries that have so far been the main recipients of German arms exports,” Baerbock said, adding that the new arms export control legislation would bring more clarity. If this comes into force, exporters and the government will not only be forced to adhere to “restrictive guidelines”, but will also be held liable if in doubt.
Egypt is the largest importer of German weapons
His counterpart in Cairo, Sameh Hassan Shoukry, said that Egypt did not subject its relations with other countries to conditions. He said that “mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs” were important and added that Egypt saw a direct link between its national security and the security of Europe, particularly with regard to terrorism and migration.
Baerbock landed in Berlin on Saturday evening. From now on, she will devote herself fully to Ukraine. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is due to travel to Kiev in the coming days, then to Moscow.
On Saturday, Baerbock said Germany would do everything possible to find a diplomatic solution, but added that it may have to implement new security measures very soon – particularly if, as the United States has warned, the “worst-case scenario” of an attack on Ukraine by Russia takes place next week. On Sunday, the German presidential election takes place. After that, crisis diplomacy will continue.
This article has been translated from German.