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Paris, Cairo, arms sales and human rights

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – ANGELA WEISS – | Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi at the United Nations in New York on September 20, 2017

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi’s visit to France, denounced for his “catastrophic” human rights record, is seen by NGOs as a crucial test for Emmanuel Macron, summoned to end the scandalous tolerance “from Paris to Cairo.

Mr. Sissi will carry out from Monday a three-day official visit and will meet for the first time on Tuesday at the Elysee M. Macron since he was elected president.

France, which has excellent trade and security relations with Egypt, seen as a “bulwark” against terrorism in a region that is in constant turmoil, promised that the human rights situation would be addressed in this regard. interview.

But several NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, FIDH and Reporters Without Borders, have pointed out that Egypt is experiencing “the worst human rights crisis in decades” and asked France for concrete signs to end its “silence”, even his “tolerance”.

“This will be a crucial diplomatic test for us – Mr Macron makes strong public statements and vibrant speeches, and it is urgent that he concretely puts his speech into action,” said HRW Director France Benedicte Jeannerod. during a press conference in Paris on Monday. In particular, it called for Paris’ support to the Egyptian Government to be linked to tangible improvements in the field of human rights.

“We are counting on you to recall that France does not endorse the repressive practices of Egypt and believes that significant reforms in favor of human rights, democracy and civil society must be initiated,” said their side in a joint letter to Emmanuel Macron the NGOs EuroMed Rights, Coordination South, FIDH, the Cairo Institute for the Study of Human Rights and RSF.

– NGOs ‘criminalized’ –

They call on Macron to ask the Egyptian president “to put an end to the campaign of criminalization of human rights defenders”.

Since 2015, Egypt has signed arms contracts with France for more than six billion euros, including 24 Rafale fighter jets, a frigate, two Mistral helicopter carriers and missiles.

Mr. Sissi is scheduled to meet with entrepreneurs during his visit. He will also see ministers, including his “friend” Jean-Yves Le Drian, the current head of diplomacy, who drove these major arms sales with Cairo when he was Minister of Defense under the former President François Hollande.

In an interview with France-24 on Monday night, Sissi said “there are no political detainees in Egypt”, ensuring that all detainees are interrogated and brought before the courts according to normal judicial procedures.

He also confirmed that “coordination existed” with France to promote a political solution in Libya, a country to which the defeated jihadists in Syria and Iraq “will move”, he said, as well as Egypt, the Sinai and West Africa.

– ‘Difficult equation’ –

“Egypt wants to achieve the necessary balance between the rights and duties of citizens on the one hand, and the security challenges of the fight against terrorism on the other,” said the Egyptian president in an interview with the daily Le Figaro, acknowledging that “it’s a sometimes difficult equation when your responsibility is to secure one hundred million citizens.”

On the subject of Islam, Mr. Sissi intends to “correct the misinterpretations of religious precepts erected as ideological pretexts to justify violence and terrorism”.

For France, Egypt is “the central element of regional stability” and Paris works with “in a spirit of confidence and efficiency”, according to a government official, who defends to put the issue of human rights. man under the bushel.

The meeting between MM. Macron and Sissi “will raise issues of common interest such as regional crises and the fight against terrorism, but also the situation of human rights,” said last week the Elysee.

– Paris ‘stubborn but discreet’ –

However, Paris also claims the discretion in the matter: “If we arrive by telling them it’s not good what you do, it’s not effective.What can work is to mention specific cases You have to be stubborn but discreet, “according to a diplomatic source.

“We have to talk about it publicly,” replies Hussein Baoumi, campaign manager for Egypt for Amnesty International, for whom “the silence of foreign governments” encourages repression.

But for Mohamed Zarea, vice president of FIDH, “the issue is not to criticize, to express reservations, but to act”.

Abdel Fatah al-Sisi came to power in 2013 after deposing democratically elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. The crackdown fell primarily on the Muslim Brotherhood, but gradually reached the opposition, the media, NGOs and civil society.

“There is no space for any kind of protest in Egypt, only one opinion is allowed, it is the opinion of the state,” Hussein Baoumi denounced.

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