French President Emmanuel Macron met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to discuss terrorism, the conflict in Libya and other regional issues as part of a state visit to France, amid criticism from human rights groups over the Egyptian leader’s crackdown on dissent.
El-Sissi has overseen the largest crackdown on critics in Egypt in living memory, jailing thousands of Islamists along with pro-democracy activists, reversing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, silencing critics and placing draconian rules on rights groups.
“We have disagreements on this topic (human rights) and we talk about it very frankly with president el-Sissi”, Macron said in a news conference at the Elysee Palace.
“I won’t make our defense and economic cooperation conditional upon these disagreements”, Macron said.
Over 20 human rights groups have denounced in a joint statement France’s strategic partnership with Egypt and have called for a demonstration on Tuesday near the National Assembly in Paris.
Days before El-Sissi’s arrival in France, amid pressure from U.N. and Western activists, Egyptian authorities released three workers with one of the last rights groups still functioning in Egypt.
The three staffers of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who were detained in November following a meeting with diplomats from Western countries, were released Thursday pending an investigation into charges of belonging to a terrorist group and spreading false news.
El-Sissi often warns that his tough hand ensuring stability is necessary, pointing to war and destruction in Syria, Yemen and Libya as the alternative.
Egypt is a US ally and has deep economic ties with European countries.
French authorities see Egypt as a key country in efforts to stabilize the troubled region, and Macron has warned that in the absence of Western support, Egypt could turn to the West’s authoritarian rivals China and Russia.