The French president will not condition his sale of weapons to the Sisi regime despite a recent spate of arrests targeting human rights activists.
French President Emmanuel Macron is facing criticism for refusing to condition the sale of weapons to Egypt on its respect for human rights, instead arguing that Cairo’s need to fight terrorism trumped such considerations.
The French leader has presented himself as somewhat of a defender of Western civilisation and its values in recent months, amid a campaign to combat what he calls ‘separatism’ among French Muslims and a spate of attacks by supporters of terrorist groups, such as Daesh.
His passionate defence of free speech, however, seems only applicable to his own country and not to his allies in Egypt, who have in recent weeks arrested and released a number of human rights activists and have previously jailed tens of thousands of members of the opposition.
Before the state visit by Egypt’s leader Abdel Fattah el Sisi to France this week, human rights groups had called on Macron to use his influence to pressure the Egyptian to end his repression of dissent, arguing that any potential arms deal would be seen as approval of the Egyptian government’s approach.
More than 100,000 people have also signed a petition calling on Macron to halt the sale of weapons to Cairo, over Egypt’s record on human rights.
A joint statement by 17 French, Middle Eastern, and international rights groups said:
“If Egypt does not release arbitrarily detained activists and defenders ahead of the visit, and those who unjustly imprison them are rewarded with arms deals and praise, the implication for what is left of Egypt’s human rights community would be devastating and President Macron’s commitment to human rights in Egypt would be undermined.”
Their concerns have been brushed aside by the French president and his country is now set to transfer $1.7 billion in arms to become Egypt’s top supplier, above the US, according to analysis by Anadolu Agency.
Since 2015, France has sold large quantities of weapons to Egypt, including helicopter carriers and two dozen Rafale fighter jets.
The two countries are allies in the conflict in Libya, where both support the warlord Khalifa Haftar and his campaign to bring down the UN-recognised Government of National Accord, which is based in Tripoli.
Macron also thanked Egypt for its ardent support for Paris amid a global boycott of French products over what many Muslims consider France’s unfair conflation of extremist groups, such as al Qaeda and Daesh, with regular Muslims.
In the aftermath of recent terrorist violence, France has pledged to target enemies of its values.
Despite, relegating concerns over human rights when it came to the weapon’s deal, Macron was still eager to convey to Sisi the importance of such values.
When Sisi argued that religious values should take precedence over humanitarian values when it came to offending others, Macron retorted:
"We consider human values superior to everything else. That's what was brought about by the philosophy of the Enlightenment and it is the foundation for the universality of human rights.”
But it’s not just Egypt where France’s arms exports are facing scrutiny. The country’s involvement with Saudi Arabia and Yemen has also been cause for concern among activists.
France has sold fighter planes and tanks to the UAE, as well as laser guided missiles to Saudi Arabia.
These weapons are believed to have been used in the war in Yemen, where upwards of 233,000 people have been killed due to the conflict in six years, according to the UN.
Speaking regarding French complicity in the Yemen war, France 24 quoted Human Rights Watch’s Benedicte Jeannerod, who said “the (French) government can no longer deny the risk of complicity in war crimes.”