France will not condition weapons sales to Egypt on human rights concerns, French President Emmanuel Macron said after meeting with his Egyptian counterpart in Paris on Monday.
Macron told a joint press conference with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi that he had brought up the issue of human rights during their discussions and said he remained “a constant advocate of democratic and social openness”.
But he ruled out conditioning France’s deepening defence and trade ties with Egypt on the issue of rights.
“I won’t make our defence and economic cooperation conditional upon these [human rights] disagreements,” he said. “I think it is more effective to have a policy of dialogue than a policy of boycott, which would reduce the effectiveness of one of our partners in the fight against terrorism and for regional stability.”
Amnesty International’s Egypt and Libya researcher Hussein Baoumi accused Macron of failing to hold el-Sisi to account.
“Macron’s message sends a very dangerous message to Egypt, because it’s basically reiterating that actual cooperation between the two countries won’t be impacted by the human rights situation in Egypt,” Baoumi told Al Jazeera from the Tunisian capital, Tunis.
“It’s also a very dangerous message because from the Egyptian government’s point of view, ‘counterterrorism’ means arresting peaceful human rights defenders, it means arresting peaceful protesters, it means subjecting them to very dire conditions, it means enforcing disappearances and it means torture in order to extract confessions.”
Activists had been calling on Macron to press el-Sisi on his handling of human rights, but the French leader claimed he did not want to weaken Cairo’s ability to counter armed groups in the region amid concerns over Libya, domestic security and instability across the Sahel.
France views its partnership with Egypt as critical to containing armed groups operating in the Sinai peninsula and Libya.
Macron hosted el-Sisi, whom he referred to as his “friend”, for talks on the second day of the Egyptian’s three-day state visit to France.
Dozens of political detainees are on death row in Egypt, and thousands are believed to be imprisoned.
Prior to el-Sisi’s visit, more than a dozen human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, urged Macron to end his “unconditional support for the Egyptian government”.
French officials dismissed the criticism, saying the government had a policy of avoiding public declarations about other countries’ rights records and instead raising concerns in private.
El-Sisi has overseen the largest crackdown on civil society in Egypt in living memory, jailing thousands of pro-democracy activists, reversing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, silencing critics and placing draconian rules on rights groups.