Criticized for Egypt ties, France to raise human rights with al-Sisi

PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron, conscious of criticism of France’s policy on Egypt, will raise his concerns over human rights when he meets Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Paris next week, his office said on Thursday.

The two countries have nurtured closer economic and military ties in recent years and with Sisi’s rise to power that relationship has improved with both sides concerned by the political vacuum in Libya and the threat from jihadist groups in Egypt.

But human rights organizations at home and overseas have accused France under Macron of remaining silent in the face of increasing violations of freedoms by Sisi’s government as the 2018 presidential elections approach.

“This first meeting … will enable them to discuss subjects of common interest such as regional crises and the fight against terrorism, but also the human rights situation which France is especially vigilant about,” the presidency said in a statement referring to Sisi’s Oct 23-25 visit.

Rights’ groups are in particular critical of the relationship between Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who in his previous role as defense minister, developed a personal relationship with Sisi, and say Paris has abandoned its principles for economic and security interests.

French officials dismiss this criticism and say the new administration is following a policy of not openly criticizing countries over human rights so as to be more efficient in private and work on a case by case basis.

In a report in September, Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced “widespread and systematic” use of torture by Egyptian security forces. The United Nations on Oct. 13 condemned an anti-gay crackdown in Egypt.

HRW earlier slammed French “indulgence” towards repression in Egypt.

According to two NGO officials aware of talks between Macron and human rights groups on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September, Macron had told them that while he acknowledged the worsening human rights situation in Egypt, his priority was to ensure Sisi continued to fight terrorist groups.

Faced with the lack of progress in respecting human rights and on democratic standards, the United States decided in August to freeze the payment of $195 million in military aid.

Under the previous government, France concluded several major military agreements with Egypt, including the sale of 24 Rafale combat aircraft, a multi-mission frigate and two Mistral warships in contracts worth some six billion euros.

Editing by Richard Balmforth

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