French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday he would not make human rights a condition for the sale of weapons to Egypt because he did not want to weaken Cairo's ability to counter terrorism in the region.
Macron made the comments during a joint news conference in Paris with visiting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
At least 17 French and international human rights groups issued a statement ahead of the visit, accusing Macron of turning a blind eye to what they say are increasing violations of freedoms by Sissi's government.
In the statement, the groups – led by Human Rights Watch – said Egypt is abusively using counter-terrorist legislation to eradicate the legitimate work in favor of human rights and suppress all peaceful dissent in the country.
But in his comments, Macron said he would not condition matters of defense and economic cooperation on what he called “disagreements” regarding human rights.
He said it would be “more efficient to have a policy of demanding dialogue than a boycott that would only reduce the effectiveness of one of our partners in the fight against terrorism and in terms of regional stability."
Sissi pushed back against the criticism of his human rights record, rejecting a portrayal of him as a violent, ruthless dictator. “You cannot present the state of Egypt, with all that it has done for its people and for stability in the region, with it being a dictatorship."
During his presidency, Sissi has overseen a massive crackdown on critics of his government, jailing thousands of Islamists along with pro-democracy activists, reversing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, silencing critics and placing draconian rules on rights groups.