A presidential official said the controversial move was an inevitable part of protocol during a state visit.
French President Emmanuel Macron bestowed the highest honor on his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sissi France during his state visit to Paris this week, a presidential official said, adding to the controversy over the hugely controversial trip.
Activists who warned Macron not to roll out the red carpet for el-Sisi were already furious at the French leader’s refusal to condition the deepening of defense and trade relations with Egypt on his respect for human rights .
Macron decorated el-Sisi with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor during the visit, a French presidential official said on Thursday, insisting that the gesture was an integral part of the protocol during a state visit .
“The granting of rewards is one of the traditional elements of state visits, which are rare, with only one to two per year in France,” a French diplomatic source told AFP who asked not to not be named.
“And because they are heads of state, they receive the highest honor,” the source said.
Images of the ceremony did not appear until after it was released by the Egyptian presidency. The Egyptian delegation filmed the event.
The awards ceremony was not on the official agenda given to French journalists.
French media were also banned from filming other stages of his visit to Paris, including his arrival at the presidential palace for a state dinner and his meeting with the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.
French TV channel TMC then broadcast footage found on the Egyptian presidency’s website.
Other heads of state to have received the Legion of Honor include the Kings of Spain, the Netherlands and Morocco, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was awarded the Legion of Honor in 2006.
France also awarded the prize to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2001, although Macron initiated proceedings to deprive him of the honor due to the Syrian civil war. Al-Assad himself returned it after Paris took part in airstrikes against Syria.
Activists expressed unease over El-Sisi’s three-day visit that ended on Tuesday, saying France should do more to raise concerns about the some 60,000 political prisoners languishing in Egyptian jails.
Prior to the visit, a dozen rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, said France had “long indulged in President al-Sisi’s brutal crackdown on all forms of dissent.”
Egypt and France have increasingly close relations under the reign of former Army General el-Sisi, with common interests in the Middle East and a common suspicion of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
El-Sisi came to power in 2014 following the 2013 overthrow of then-president Mohamed Morsi by the army that el-Sisi then led.
Among those caught up in the crackdown are supporters of the overthrown Morsi, as well as leftist and liberal activists.