Glitzy German ball waltzes away controversy over al-Sissi award

dpa news germany

Thousands of people dressed to the nines danced away the night at the annual ball at Dresden’s famous opera house on Friday – though controversy involving Egypt’s president has tarnished some of the event’s shine.

The 15th Semper Opera Ball in the eastern German city this year has a “fairy tale” theme.

But celebrations are being overshadowed by the organizers’ decision to award Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi the ball’s Order of St George in Cairo last month.

Al-Sissi has led Egypt since taking over in a 2014 coup that ousted the country’s first democratically elected president. He has led a massive crackdown on dissent, with thousands of Islamist and secular opponents behind bars.

Michael Kretschmer, the state premier of Saxony, stressed that he wanted the ball to take place in coming years as well. “For that we don’t need awards”, but the event being well organized, he said.

Some things in the run-up to the ball had not gone well, the conservative politician said, adding that the ball’s organizers had “taken die appropriate steps”.

Al-Sissi’s award has since been rescinded, but not before two prominent journalists set to host the event – Judith Rakers and Mareile Hoeppner – cancelled their attendance.

Roland Kaiser, a star from Germany’s Schlager pop music scene who hosted the ball, criticized the hatred and online abuse Hoeppner faced for her decision.

He stressed that now more than ever, it was important to “celebrate life and the arts”. The ball featured performances from the symphony orchestra of public broadcaster MDR and German-Romanian singer Peter Maffay.

Activists from human rights organization Amnesty International held a protest outside the venue, saying such awards not only helped to legitimize al-Sissi’s repression but also downplayed the agenda of others with similar agendas.

By Simona Block and Rachel More, dpa

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