Negotiations, Not Sales

A stricter regulation of arms exports to crisis regions reduces causes of displacement and also makes German diplomacy more credible.

Without trips like these, peace would not be possible: Again and again, Secretary of State Sigmar Gabriel travelled between the quarreling Gulf states Qatar and Saudi-Arabia after the outbreak of their crisis. At talks in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Doha, he capitalized on Germany's position of an economic power in the Arab world – and on the Federal Republic's oft-quoted image as “honest broker”. So far, without success: Five months after Saudi-Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain broke off relations with Qatar, an end to the fight between the Sunni Petrodollar monarchies is nowhere in sight. This dispute started in May, right after US president Donald Trump visited Riyadh.

German Armaments in the Crisis Region Middle East

There is one obvious reason why Berlin in lacking credibility as a peace broker in the frozen conflict: In 2016, Saudi-Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were among the top recipients of German armaments in the region; a year prior, Qatar was not only the regional, but actually the global main buyer for weapons and military technology made in Germany. The Federal Security Council authorized sales for about 1.66 Billion euros to the dynasty, headed by the young Emir Tamim Bin Al Thani.

EU Demands a Ban on Exports, Germany Keeps Making Deliveries to Warring Parties

This export policy is not only a contradiction of the German Arms Exports Control Directive but also of the 2008 EU Common Position. Respect for human rights, the internal situation of the country of final destination and the risk of re-exportation under undesirable conditions are all taken into account in the Common Position – but only on paper, unfortunately. Despite a 2016 Resolution, in which the European Parliament called for a suspension of arms exports to the Gulf states involved in the war in Yemen, Berlin impassively continues to make deliveries to Riyadh, Doha and Abu Dhabi.

The War in Yemen Has Caused a Humanitarian Catastrophe

This is astonishing, seeing that the bombardment started by Mohammed bin Salman, then minister of defense but now crown prince of Saudi Arabia, has caused the possibly largest humanitarian catastrophe worldwide. 17 million people in Yemen are in need of food aid, hundreds of thousands have contracted cholera and there are nearly three million internally displaced persons in the country. The fact that so far, only 280,000 people have managed to leave this poverty-stricken region of the Arab world and were able to apply for asylum or be registered as a refugee somewhere else is only due to Yemen's geographical location at the southern edge of the Arabian peninsula.

The Stabilization of Authoritarian Regimes Has Led to Stagnation

The rearmament pursued by Germany's partners on the Gulf has led to an escalation and extension of the conflicts and has forced millions of people in Yemen, Syria and Iraq to flee. Those EU states that for all too long backed repressive regimes like Gaddafi's or Assad's as a supposed alternative to Al Quaeda or the Islamic State bear the blame as well. Appallingly, they confused stability and stagnation. But the 2011 Arab Revolts have shown clearly that an end to power abuse and repression can only be reached through transparency and citizen participation. A further cooperation in the security sector with regional dictatorships might lead to a deadly calm at best; but it will not bring sustainable economic or social security.

The Lesson Has Not Been Learned Yet

With Egypt, Germany is currently repeating the mistakes from the Mubarak era. In 2016, the Federal Government authorized arms exports for 400 million euros to the regime of former army chief Abdel Fattah al Sisi, who in the same year during a visit in Cairo was dignified by Gabriel as an “impressive president”. Critical dialogue looks different. And just before Merkel's state visit to Egypt in March, it was leaked that the Federal Security Council under her leadership had agreed to a delivery of 330 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles – deadly help that creates new causes of flight instead of preventing them.

End Weapon Deals and and Reform Arms Policy

The exports are being financed by Saudi Arabia, Sisi's rich ally in the fight against Islamist terror. Therefore, in order to promote a European arms policy that is oriented towards preventing causes of flight in the Middle East, it is necessary to begin in Riyadh.

In the face of lasting domestic repression and the devastating role the Saudi air force played in Yemen, the Federal Government should put a consequent stop to all weapons deals with the Wahabi royal house. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar should be on the banned list as well and the security cooperation with Egypt should be ended. Further, Germany should strongly increase its offers of expertise regarding democratization of its Middle Eastern partners' security sectors. There can be no better catalyst in preventing further states in the Middle East from collapsing. Because only if police and army are subject to a constitutional and parliamentary control system that security maintains a human dimension. A long-term project indeed, but a peace project just the same.



In the last two decades, Markus Bickel has reported for various media outlets from, amongst others, Sarajevo, Pristina, Beirut and Damascus. Most recently he was the Middle East correspondent for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Cairo. In 2017, his book “Die Profiteure des Terrors – Wie Deutschland an Kriegen verdient und arabische Diktaturen stärkt" was published in the Westend-Verlag (“Profiteers of Terrorism: How Germany Profits from War and Strengthens Arab Dictatorships”).

FES Contact:Felix Braunsdorf, Policy Officer for Migration and Development

Events, projects, analyzes and background information:

  • Displacement: Worldwide, more people are leaving their countries of origin than ever before.
  • Migration: Migration is to be expected in an interconnected and globalized world.
  • Integration: How do we want to live together in a diverse society with peace, safety and equal participation for all?

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