French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday he disscussed the human rights situation in Egypt with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, but said it was out of the question to tell his counterpart what to do.
Macron’s statement comes a day after Human Rights Watch (HRW) said France “should stop ignoring Egypt’s dire rights record”, urging the French leader to put human rights before business in France’s relationship with Egypt.
Sisi is on an official visit to France from Monday to Wednesday, during which he is meeting Macron, ministers and the heads of the French National Assembly and Senate.
“There is a challenge in Egypt: it is the fight against terrorism and religious fundamentalism. Al-Sisi governs in this particularly difficult context and in the same way that I do not accept to be given lessons on how I must govern, I do not give them to others,” Macron told a news conference.
“I believe in sovereignty, so we are in no position to tell Egypt what to do,” he added. Sisi rejected claims of torture and restrictions from NGOs and media in his country, saying all reports were fabricated.
“Human rights are a difficult issue, you must put it in context,” he said. “Be careful with the treatment of all information, there is an organization working against society in Egypt, which spreads ideas that are not real about what is happening in Egypt.”
Both leaders witnessed the signing of cooperation agreements as well as of defense contracts between both countries. Since a bloody military coup brought Sisi to power in 2014, relations between Cairo and Paris have been characterized by several major weapons procurement deals.
French Armed Forces Minister Sylvie Goulard met Sisi in June to discuss military and security cooperation between Egypt and France.
France was the sixth largest investor in Egypt in 2016, with an estimated foreign direct investment (FDI) stock of €3.5 billion ($4.1 billion) — making it Egypt’s seventh largest supplier and 13th biggest customer, according to the French Foreign Ministry.
Bilateral trade between the two countries increased in the first eight months of 2017, with an increase of 9.2 percent in French exports (€1.1 billion/$1.3 billion) and 21 percent in imports (€401.4 million/$478.8 million) compared to the same period in 2016.
More than 160 French companies are based in Egypt and employ nearly 30,000 people across a wide range of sectors.
Human Rights Watch said France’s arms exports to Egypt “violate the conclusions of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, which said on Aug. 21, 2013, that European countries should suspend arms exports that could be used in internal repression.”
The EU conclusions followed the bloody dispersal on Aug. 14 by the military of mass protests opposing the coup that ousted then-President Mohamed Morsi — Egypt’s first freely elected president and a Muslim Brotherhood leader.