President Emmanuel Macron is hosting Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi from Sunday for a three-day state visit to France ahead of talks by activists that Egypt should not “hang out” despite the close alliance between Cairo and Paris.
Egypt and France have had increasingly close relations under the former Sisi’s secular regime, with common interests in the Middle East and a shared suspicion of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Sisi will have dinner with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday night before holding talks with Macron at the Elysee on Monday. Meetings with other political leaders will take place on Tuesday.
France’s close relationship with Egypt at a time when Cairo is accused of serious human rights violations has affected activists who want Macron to make the issue central to the discussions.
“French diplomacy at the highest levels has long enjoyed President al-Sisi’s brutal repression of any form of disagreement,” a dozen human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), said in a joint statement. visit.
“It is now or never for President Macron to stand up for his self-proclaimed commitment to the promotion of human rights in Egypt.”
The statement said that in addition to being Egypt’s main supplier of weapons by selling warships and fighter jets, the French government had also allowed French companies to provide Cairo with surveillance and crowd control tools.
“We are surprised that France is rolling out the red carpet for a dictator when there are currently more than 60,000 prisoners of conscience in Egypt,” Antoine Madelin, FIDH’s international director of law, told AFP.
Sisi came to power in 2014 after President Mohamed Morsi overthrew the military in 2013, which he then led.
Those caught in the abuses included Islamist supporters of the dismissed Morsi, but also leftists and liberals.
Concerns over Sisi’s visit to Paris intensified when three Egyptian activists were arrested last month after a meeting with foreign ambassadors.
However, following an international campaign with celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson, all three campaigns from the Egyptian initiative for personal rights have been liberated.
Rights NGOs will hold a protest outside the French parliament on Tuesday condemning the “strategic partnership” between France and Egypt.
A French presidential official, who asked not to be named, described the release of the trio as a “positive signal” and stressed that rights issues would be addressed by Macron.
Macron had raised human rights issues during a visit to Cairo in January 2018, mentioning “respect for individual freedoms, the dignity of all and the rule of law.”
The French leader had been criticized by rights groups after saying in October 2017 during a visit by Sisi to Paris that he would not “lecture” Egypt on freedoms.
Those imprisoned in Egypt include Palestinian-Egyptian activist Ramy Shaath, husband of French citizen Celine Lebrun, and have been held since July 2019 on charges of acting against the state.
“His case is completely empty and the accusations lack evidence,” Lebrun told AFP, saying she could only talk to her husband twice by phone.
Both Macron and Sisi are wary of Turkey’s regional ambitions under Erdogan, who has intervened militarily in the conflicts in Libya and Syria and sought to strengthen the Turkish footprint in Africa.
The Muslim Brotherhood Morsi was a close ally of Erdogan and the Turkish president has repeatedly expressed concern over his suspension.
Tensions between Ankara and Paris increased further ahead of the visit with Erdogan, who said France should “get rid of” Macron as soon as possible “.
France’s priority is to strengthen the “strategic partnership” with the most populous country in the Arab world, which is considered a center of “stability” in a volatile region, the French official said.