Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Monday to boost economic and military ties with France. The dealings present a dilemma for the French government in light of Egypt’s poor human rights record.
In January 2019, el-Sissi and Macron met in Cairo, where the French president said that Egypt was not headed in “the right direction” on human rights.
Ahead of Monday’s meeting, several NGOs issued a statement pressing Macron to take a strong stand on the issue. Their statement said that France had - in the groups’ words - "long indulged President el-Sissi's brutal repression of any form of dissent."
Katia Roux, in charge of advocacy with Amnesty International France, says there has been an unprecedented repression against civil society in Egypt since el-Sissi became president in 2014. Roux says the international community is not doing enough to ensure Egypt respects human rights.
In a joint press conference at the French presidential palace, Macron rebuked the critics and vowed to continue the sale of weapons to Egypt.
Macron said he opposes any condition on matters of defense and economic cooperation because of what he describes as disagreements over human rights. Macron says it is more effective to have a policy of demanding dialogue than a boycott which – he says – would only reduce the effectiveness of a partner in the fight against terrorism and for the region’s stability.
The French president’s office said topping the agenda in el-Sissi’s meeting with Macron was Libya and Syria.
To counter Turkey’s push to expand its influence in the region, France and Egypt stress the need for the Eastern Mediterranean to remain “as a space for cooperation which respects all sovereignties," the French presidency said in a statement.
Egypt has become a strategic partner for France in the Middle East amid growing tensions with Turkey.
The Egyptian government is a major weapons client for French fighter jets and warships. However, no major contracts were expected to be signed during this visit.