Emmanuel Macron prompted criticism yesterday after saying he would not make weapons sales to Egypt conditional on Cairo improving its human rights record.
The French president made the remarks during a joint press conference with Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s president, at the Elysée Palace in Paris.
Mr Macron referred to Mr Sisi as his “friend” during talks about economic and military ties, and shared concerns over instability in Libya, the threat of terrorism in Egypt and regional in security.
Mr Macron appeared to suggest that those issues took precedence over concerns about a draconian crackdown on dissent in Egypt, where three staff members of a human rights organisation were recently arrested after they met with Western diplomats.
“I will not condition matters of defence and economic co-operation on these disagreements” over human rights, he said.
“It is more effective to have a policy of demanding dialogue than a boycott which would only reduce the effectiveness of one our partners in the fight against terrorism.”
But even French officials have questioned the red carpet welcome afforded to Mr Sisi, who rights groups accuse of jailing 60,000 political prisoners and presiding over anMacron criticised over red-carpet welcome and arms sales to Sisi alarming rise in capital punishment.
“I don’t know what we gain from this visit. It’s business as usual,” one French diplomat said.
France was the leading arms supplier to Egypt between 2015 and 2019, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, selling Cairo billions in weapons ranging from Mistral-class helicopter carriers to two dozen Rafale fighter jets.
Limiting sales of conventional arms such as these would not affect Cairo’s fight against terrorism, said Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
“Rafale fighter jets are not counter-terrorism tools,” he said. “Too often Western governments have decided to grant Sisi these high-profile state visits while repression in Egypt continues and even intensifies.”