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Egypt’s human rights abuses overshadow Macron’s visit

Ludovic Marin, AFP | Emmanuel Macron and Abdul Fattah al-Sisi review a guard of honour in Cairo, Jan. 28, 2019

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday said he told his Egyptian counterpart Abdel al-Sisi during a visit to Cairo that security could not be separated from human rights.

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"Stability and durable peace go together with respect for individual dignity and the rule of law, and the search for stability cannot be dissociated from the question of human rights," he said during a joint press conference with Sisi that was dominated by Egypt’s poor human rights record.

For his part, Sisi defended his administration’s actions. "Egypt does not advance through bloggers. It advances through the work, effort and perseverance of its sons," he said.

Trade and military deals were expected to dominate the agenda as France has turned into the biggest supplier of arms to Egypt in recent years. Cairo has purchased French fighter planes, warships and a military satellite in a deal worth more than €1 billion and Sisi’s administration signed a €5.2 billion deal in 2015 for the purchase of Rafale fighter jets, missiles and a frigate.

But Macron has faced increasing criticism in France over his silence on Egypt’s human rights records, including a crackdown on a labour rights movement at an Egyptian Navy shipyard building battleships in partnership with a French company.

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

Following a meeting with Sisi shortly after his presidential election victory, Macron told reporters it was not up to him to “lecture” his Egyptian counterpart on human rights abuses.

His discourse changed on his latest visit to Egypt, although Macron was careful to reiterate France’s respect for Egyptian sovereignty.

Reporting from Cairo for FRANCE 24 shortly after the joint press conference, Ruth Michaelson noted that with the trade and military deals, there was “a lot of emphasis on the positive relations between the two countries, the place of Egypt in the region, the importance of Egypt for the situation in Libya, for example”, she said. “But the most remarkable parts were that to have a foreign leader come to Egypt and to say quite publicly -- he was very careful not to frame this as a criticism or an intrusion into Egyptian sovereignty -- but he made it quite clear that he had placed demands on Sisi to improve Egypt’s human rights record and potentially even to free some political prisoners who are behind bars here in Egypt.”

Macron calls on Sisi to improve Egypt’s rights record

‘Yellow Vests’ and the right to demonstrate

Macron dismissed suggestions that French weapons in Egypt were being used against civilians, saying they had only been used for military purposes.

He also said no potential new military contracts were talked about during the meeting with Sisi beyond a possible deal for 12 fighter jets.

When an Egyptian journalist asked the French president about the Yellow Vests protest movement in France, Macron said he deplored the fact that 11 people had lost their lives. But, he noted, none of them had been victims of the police or security officials. “There is anger,” he conceded. “These demonstrators are expressing their anger. In France, our constitution grants us the freedom to demonstrate and we will protect this freedom to demonstrate.”

Officials signed a series of economic and development deals including French support for social policies and female entrepreneurship, and a memorandum of understanding for the expansion of Cairo's metro.

Macron arrived Sunday in Egypt and visited the country's south, where he toured the famed temple of Abu Simbel and other archaeological sites.

His delegation includes government ministers, two dozen representatives from academic, cultural, and scientific fields, and a dozen business leaders - including the heads of Rafale producer Dassault.

Macron will also dine with local business leaders and meet the heads of Egypt's Christian and Muslim communities during the trip, his first to Egypt since taking office in 2017.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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