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Macron's tough stance on Egypt needs to go further - rights activists

Emmanuel Macron and wife Brigitte Macron are welcomed by Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and Intissar Amer at the presidential palace in Cairo on 28 January 2019. AFP / Ludovic Marin

Rights activists in France have praised the French President's tougher stance on human rights in Egypt but are pushing for greater checks on the sale of French military equipment to "dictatorships".

During his three-day trip to Egypt, Emmanuel Macron bowed to pressure from NGOs on Monday, telling his counterpart, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, that Egypt's stability is linked to the treatment of its people.

"The search for stability cannot be dissociated from the question of human rights," Macron said during a joint press conference.

Different tune this time

The comments mark a departure from Macron's previous stance, during talks with al-Sisi in 2017, when he insisted it was not his place to lecture the Egyptian leader on civil liberties. France had a duty to respect Egyptian sovereignty, Macron said at the time.

While welcoming Macron's change in tack, Antoine Madelin of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) says more needs to be done to stop the sale of French weapons and technology to oppressive regimes.

French sales of arms

“The repression by the al-Sisi government is being carried out using French surveillance equipment made in France and sold to the dictatorship by French tech companies. The French executive needs to put in place stronger controls over the way these weapons are being sold," says Madelin.

"The FIDH has been asking for the French parliament to play a greater role and to counterbalance the executive’s position to make sure that human rights are at the heart of trade agreements.”

Egypt's crackdown

While seen as a key ally in the fight against extremism, al-Sisi has led a crackdown on dissent – with Macron conceding ahead of his trip that freedoms in Egypt are more restricted now than they were when he last held talks with al-Sisi in 2017.

Tweet by Macron January 28th, 2019
I reminded President Al-Sisi that the search for security that drives us should not take away from the question of human rights






For now, no new military contracts are being discussed, apart from a possible deal for 12 new Rafale fighter jets.

Instead, Macron and al-Sisi oversaw the signing of some 30 economic and development deals worth hundreds of millions of euros.

Among them were French support for social policies and women entrepreneurs, and preliminary deal for the expansion of Cairo's metro.

Egypt-France relations

Egypt is important for French foreign policy in the Middle East for its “symbolism”, and because Cairo is influential on many issues that matter to France – issues that go beyond trade and cultural cooperation, says Manuel Lafont Rapnouil of the European Council on Foreign Relations.