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Macron risks new criticism over human rights with lucrative trip to Egypt

Ludovic Marin, AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron and First Lady Brigitte Macron visit the Abu Simbel temples in Egypt.

France's Emmanuel Macron began a three-day trip to Egypt on Sunday that will include a meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to sign deals worth hundreds of millions of euros, a move likely to spark new criticism of Egypt's human rights record.

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The French leader is accompanied by his wife Brigitte and a delegation including Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly.

Macron is scheduled to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday for talks aimed at strengthening the "strategic partnership" between the two countries. They are expected to sign some 30 deals worth several hundred million euros in the fields of transport, renewable energy, health and agriculture.

>> Read more: Egypt abuses put French military deals in spotlight as Macron heads to Cairo

Egypt has remained an essential market for French armaments, buying French fighter planes, warships and a military satellite in a deal worth more than €1 billion as well as signing a €5.2 billion deal in 2015 for the purchase of Rafale fighter jets, missiles and a frigate.

France continues to see the Arab world's most populous country as central to stability in the region despite human rights concerns.

Successive French presidents have routinely faced questions from journalists and activists on the Sisi administration’s rights abuses. They are typically met with evasive replies, leading Amnesty International to slam France’s “deafening silence” on Egyptian human rights.

Since Sisi assumed office in 2014 the security situation in Egypt has steadily deteriorated and its often brutal security services have become even more so, relying on a “widespread and systematic use of torture", according to Human Rights Watch.

Civil rights have eroded as well, and today Egyptians are less free to assemble or speak out. The press has largely been muzzled and critics of the government are routinely jailed or even disappeared. Human rights activists are barred from leaving the country and some have had their assets frozen. Internet sites, including those of news organisations, have been blocked, NGOs have been shuttered and their directors targeted. Egyptian authorities have also launched a drastic clampdown on Cairo’s gay community.

During his first meeting with Sisi in October 2017, Macron told reporters in Paris that it was not up to him to “lecture” his Egyptian counterpart on human rights abuses.

“I believe in the sovereignty of states, and therefore, just as I don’t accept being lectured on how to govern my country, I don’t lecture others,” Macron said at a joint news conference.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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