While hosting Egypt's Abdel Fattah el Sisi, French President Emmanuel Macron says he will not force the issue of human rights as that would be "ineffective" and "counter-productive in the fight against terrorism."

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi at the Elysee Palace in Paris during his official visit to France, December 7, 2020
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi at the Elysee Palace in Paris during his official visit to France, December 7, 2020 (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron rolled out a red carpet for the Egyptian autocratic President Abdel Fattah el Sisi, rejecting critiscism of his close ties with the regime leader, claiming that to take a tougher line on respect for human rights would be "counterproductive."

Macron hosted Sisi, whom he referred to as his "friend" for talks on the second day of the Egyptian's three-day state visit to France.

Ahead of their discussions Amnesty International and other rights groups accused France of having "long indulged President Sisi's brutal repression of any form of dissent" and said it was "now or never" for Macron to stand up for human rights.

But the French leader refrained from criticism of former army general Sisi, who has long violently cracked down on supporters of Egypt's first and only democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi, after ousting him and forcibly taking the rightful leader's throne. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) strongly urged the Elysee Palace to press Sisi on his record of “human rights violations” which Macron in the past has waved away as merely "tough policies."

In an open letter signed by 17 organisations, HRW urged Macron to press the Sisi regime to “release arbitrarily detained activists.”

The strongly-worded letter went on to say that “French diplomacy has, at the highest levels, long indulged President el Sisi’s brutal repression of any form of dissent.”

The signatories added that Sisi’s unjust and arbitrary imprisoning is “rewarded with arms deals and praise” undermining France's “commitment to human rights in Egypt.”

READ MORE: Amnesty slams French claims of being champion of free-speech

'France will sell arms to Egypt irrespective of human rights'

While ruling out the conditioning France's deepening defence and trade ties with Egypt on the issue of rights, Macron told a joint press conference with 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."

"I will not condition matters of defence and economic cooperation on these disagreements (over human rights)," Macron said during a joint press conference with President Abdel Fattah el Sisi after the two leaders held talks in the Elysee Palace.

"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,"

To force the issue of human rights would be both "ineffective on the subject of human rights and counter-productive in the fight against terrorism, that's why I won't do it," he added.

In 2019 alone, France sold more than $1 billion worth of arms to Egypt. The sales have been described as “profound contradictions of French diplomacy.”

If France doesn’t bring up the plight of jailed human rights defenders, it “would sabotage France’s own efforts to promote human rights within its partnership with Egypt and undermine France’s credibility in many countries in the region,” said the HRW letter.

France claims it views Egypt as a key ally in the fight against terrorism but views it more of an important client for its warships and fighter jets.

READ MORE: HR groups concerned over Sisi arrival

Boycott of French products

The visit comes during a deep backlash towards France from many Muslim countries and the Muslim world, over the French state's willingness to allow and spread hate messages against the Prophet Muhammad under the pretext of 'satire.'

In response to the offensive propaganda, there have been widespread calls for a boycott of French products across the Muslim world.

"France has just been the victim of a campaign of hate and boycott, driven by ignorance and extremism," the French president said on Monday, thanking Sisi as "the president of a great Arab and Muslim country" for "honouring us with a visit."

France tried to sell it off as free speech but has been criticised for its double standards after recently releasing a controversial security bill which was described by UN experts as "incompatible with human rights."

READ MORE: French bill infringing on human rights

Reacting to remarks by Macron, who again defended free speech as a paramount French value, Sisi said: "Human values are man-made and can be always changed but religious values ... are sacred above everything."

"If expressing yourself hurts the feelings of hundreds of millions and you find that it can't be revised...it needs more thought," he said.

Concern over Sisi's trip to Paris was amplified when three Egyptian activists were arrested last month following a meeting with foreign ambassadors.

Following an international campaign backed by celebrities including Scarlett Johansson, all three campaigners from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights were freed.

Macron hailed their release as a sign of increased openness by Egypt.

The French leader had already been criticised by rights groups after saying in October 2017 during a visit by Sisi to Paris that he would not "lecture" Egypt on liberties.

Among the others jailed in Egypt are Palestinian-Egyptian activist Ramy Shaath, husband of French national Celine Lebrun, who has been held since July 2019 on accusations of acting against the state.

Macron said he had brought up Shaath's case during his talks with Sisi.

READ MORE: Dozens arrested at French police law protests

Source: AFP