France will not condition arms sales to Egypt on human rights issues, French President Emmanuel Macron said after meeting his Egyptian counterpart in Paris on Monday.
Macron told a joint press conference with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi that he raised the issue of human rights during their discussions and said he remained “a steadfast supporter of the ‘democratic and social openness’.
But he ruled out conditioning the deepening of France’s defense and commercial ties with Egypt on the issue of rights.
“I will not condition our defense and our economic cooperation on these [human rights] disagreements, ”he said. “I think it is more effective to have a policy of dialogue than a policy of boycott, which would reduce the effectiveness of one of our partners in the fight against terrorism and for regional stability.”
Amnesty International researcher on Egypt and Libya, Hussein Baoumi, accused Macron of failing to hold el-Sisi to account.
“Macron’s message sends a very dangerous message to Egypt, as it essentially reiterates that the real cooperation between the two countries will not be affected by the human rights situation in Egypt,” Baoumi told Al Jazeera from the Tunisian capital, Tunis.
“It is also a very dangerous message because from the point of view of the Egyptian government, ‘counterterrorism’ means arresting peaceful human rights defenders, it means arresting peaceful protesters, it means subjecting them to very difficult conditions, it means enforcing disappearances and it means torture order to extract confessions. “
Activists had called on Macron to pressure al-Sisi over his handling of human rights, but the French leader said he did not want to weaken Cairo’s ability to counter armed groups in the region amid the concerns over Libya, internal security and instability across the Sahel. .
France considers its partnership with Egypt essential to contain the armed groups operating in the Sinai Peninsula and in Libya.
Macron hosted el-Sisi, whom he called his “friend,” for talks on the second day of the Egyptian’s three-day state visit to France.
Dozens of political detainees are in the death row in Egypt and thousands are said to be imprisoned.
Ahead of El-Sisi’s visit, more than a dozen human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, urged Macron to end his “unconditional support for the Egyptian government.”
French officials dismissed the criticism, saying the government had a policy of avoiding public statements about the rights of other countries and raising concerns in private.
El-Sisi oversaw the largest crackdown on civil society in Egypt in living memory, imprisoning thousands of pro-democracy activists, quashing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, silencing critics and imposing draconian rules to rights groups.
Between 2013 and 2017, France was Egypt’s main arms supplier.
Those contracts dried up, including deals for more Rafale fighters and warships that were at an advanced stage.
Natacha Butler of Al Jazeera, reporting from Paris, said el-Sissi’s visit to France was aimed at “reviving” Egyptian-French relations.
“Macron said that human rights are extremely important and that Egypt, as a democracy, should respect civil liberties and have a strong civil society,” Butler said, “but Egypt remains a very important partner for France on many other issues, including what it calls counter-terrorism in the region. “
She added that the activists were very concerned about the so-called red carpet treatment that el-Sisi had received, “because they say … that the strategic partnership between Paris and Cairo is a betrayal of French values because that Egypt’s human rights record is so poor. “
France and Egypt cultivated closer economic and military ties during al-Sisi’s rise to power. The 66-year-old president took office after leading the 2013 military overthrow of the democratically elected Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi.