Unless someone starts chucking footwear, the two-podium press conferences held by heads of state after bilateral meetings are usually dull and predictable rituals. But things got unexpectedly chaotic today at a briefing for reporters following a meeting in Berlin between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
During the press conference, an unidentified reporter began screaming that Sisi was a “Nazi” and a “fascist” and chanted “down with military rule” before being removed by guards.
Sisi’s visit to Germany was already controversial, with NGOs and activists holding protests over the Egyptian government’s human rights record, particularly the death sentences handed down to hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including ex-President Mohamed Morsi. At least one prominent German politician called off a planned meeting with Morsi. And before all the yelling, Merkel criticized the government’s crackdown in less dramatic fashion, saying, “The high number of death sentences is something that we should avoid.” (The death penalty was abolished in Germany in 1949.) “We respect your perspective; you must accept our perspective,” Sisi responded.
Given the rapidly growing number of crises in the region, Western governments including Germany and the United States, which resumed providing military aid to Egypt in March, have been anxious to partner with Sisi’s regime, despite the worsening human rights situation in the country. And even today, the disagreement over the death penalty didn’t stop Merkel from pledging to forge closer economic ties between the two countries.