Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi visited France on Tuesday where he held meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. While the crisis in Libya and the presence of Daesh-affiliated groups in North Sinai topped the agenda, the counterterrorism struggle was mentioned explicitly and arms sales implicitly, as France is one of the largest providers in Egypt's weapons market. Still, the agenda of French media outlets focused on human rights' violations in Egypt, where hundreds of thousands of people have been jailed and arbitrary killings and detentions are increasingly common, according to reports which indicate there is not a democratic ground for making politics. In sum, Egypt has fallen into the hands of an autocratic regime since its first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was deposed in a bloody military coup headed by then military chief, military Gen. el-Sissi.
Ahead of the meeting, several human rights' organizations while gathering in Paris last weekend issued a statement to denounce the violations of human rights, calling on the French government to speak up and stick by the EU-imposed regulations of arms sales that require surety that the sold arms are not being used against civilians.
Egypt has long been accused of collectively punishing residents of North Sinai due to the Daesh presence in the region, especially in the town of Arish.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on France to "stop ignoring serious abuses, including the Egyptian security services' widespread and systematic use of torture."
"The dire situation of human rights in Egypt can't be swept under the rug any longer, despite French interests. France is one of Egypt's major partners on the political, security, military and commercial levels, and should use this close relationship and condition it to tangible improvements of the human rights situation," the HRW director in France said.
Despite all the calls, immediately before the meeting France said that arms sale would also be on the table. Regarding Egypt as a key country for potentially stabilizing the region and combatting extremists in Libya, France wants to increase cooperation with the country. Therefore, the human rights' issue was dropped, with Macron asserting that while he has mentioned his concerns, he is not willing to give lectures to the leaders of other countries. "I believe in the sovereignty of states. Therefore, just as I don't accept being lectured on how to govern my country, I don't lecture others," Macron said at a joint press conference with el-Sissi in Paris after the talks. "My deeply held conviction is that it would be in President el-Sissi's best interest to accompany the defense and consolidation of human rights by the Egyptian state, in the context that only he can be the judge of," the French president said. Quoting anonymous sources close to Macron, Reuters reported that "Macron brought up the issue of a dozen cases of alleged abuses of freedoms, particularly related to Egyptian journalists and human rights' activists." However, el-Sissi's reply to a question during the press briefing regarding these concerns was different: "When it comes to human rights, we're not evading an answer, but I hope that we understand it in its true context of a country in Egypt's situation. We are not in Europe where there is intellectual, cultural civilization and human advancement. We're in a different region," he said, slamming the French media's treatment of Egypt.
"Rights' groups accuse France of abandoning its principles in favor of economic and security interests. These groups are particularly critical of the relationship between French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who, in his previous role as defense minister, developed a personal relationship with el-Sissi," the aforementioned report added. Egypt signed a 5.2 billion-euro deal to buy French weaponry in 2015. The agreement was for the procurement of 24 Rafale combat jets made by Dassault Aviation, a multi-mission naval frigate and air-to-air missiles. Daily News Egypt reported that the Egyptian president has met with Hervé Guillou, the CEO of DCNS naval group, which supplies Egypt with corvettes. Praising the increasing arms sales of the French to Egypt, the Egyptian journal said: "The latest wider defense deal between Egypt and France, which is worth 5.2 billion euros all in all, includes the purchase of 24 Rafale fighter jets. The deal is financed with the help of a 3.2 billion-euro loan by the French government, which was already in place for the last arms deal between the two countries and was extended to the new one, after France sold four Gowind corvettes to Egypt in 2014."