Angela Merkel takes the flak for Berlin’s arms exports to the Gulf states

German Chancellor accused of being a favourite of Arab despots as sales climb to €817m

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The Independent Online

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has come under fierce criticism for its spiralling arms exports after new figures showed Germany on course to deliver record quantities of weapons and military hardware to the Gulf states despite grave doubts about their human rights records.

Federal government statistics showed that Mrs Merkel’s conservative-liberal coalition approved arms exports to the Gulf totalling €817m (£703m) in the first half of 2013. Last year, Germany exported €1.42bn of arms to the area – more than twice the figure for 2011.

The latest available statistics, covering exports in the six months to the end of June, suggest that last year’s surge in arms sales to the Gulf is set to be eclipsed this year. Qatar, a state criticised for human rights abuses, but which owns a 17 per cent stake in the German car giant Volkswagen, is earmarked to receive the bulk of shipments worth more than €635m.

“Angela Merkel shows absolutely no restraint regarding weapons exports,” complained Jan van Aken, a Left Party MP who campaigns against arms sales, “She behaves as if there had never been an Arab Spring. She is becoming the Arab despots’ favourite girlfriend,” he added. In its most recent annual report, Amnesty International lists cases of torture in Qatar and criticises its authoritarian government for showing a disregard for women’s rights and freedom of expression. Like neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Qatar sent tanks and soldiers to quash protests in Bahrain in the spring of 2011.

According to latest government figures, Germany is set to deliver 62 Leopard 2 battle tanks and 24 self-propelled guns to Qatar in a deal estimated by the arms manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann to be worth a total of €1.9bn.

Germany supplies military hardware to a number of other Gulf state including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Last year the lion’s share went to Saudi Arabia which received €1.24bn of hardware including Leopard 2 battle tanks and “Boxer” armoured patrol cars, which critics say can be used to crush anti-government protests.

Earlier this year, Berlin faced criticism following disclosures that it had approved a €1.5bn deal to supply the Saudi navy with German-built fast patrol boats.

Mrs Merkel, who faces a general election in just over a month’s time, has justified her arms export policies by arguing that they stabilise a potentially volatile region and help in the fight against terror. But critics insist there is little evidence to support her claim. “Everything we criticise the Taliban for, we could also charge the Saudi royal family with,” said Mr van Aken. Other opponents point out that in Germany it is politically easier for Mrs Merkel to pursue foreign policy with arms exports than with troops.

However, the serious political unrest in Egypt has convinced Germany to put its arms exports to Cairo on hold. More than €13m of weapons sales were approved earlier this year, but the economics ministry has insisted that all decisions concerning export applications to Egypt had been postponed.