FIDH and Partners Put Human Rights on the Agenda for Egyptian President’s State Visit to France

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"No red carpet without respect for human rights!" This was the firm message of FIDH and its partners during the official state visit of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to France this week, from 7 to 9 December. Despite civil society’s strong mobilisation in favour of human rights, French president Emmanuel Macron did not seem to take these appeals to heart, preferring instead to emphasise the importance of strategic partnership between France and Egypt.

While we had hoped for announcements to release prisoners, we learned, thanks to the collective Disclose, that the French government was trying to undermine the recent parliamentary report calling for stricter control of arms sales, which cited the example of Egypt and the legal risks France took there.

If there was still any doubt, the priorities of the French authorities are now clear. They were reiterated by President Macron at the joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart: the aim is to strengthen military and economic cooperation with his "strategic partner". "No matter the cost" in terms of human rights.

Let us review the arguments invoked by the French president and analyse how they are not only erroneous, but also dangerous for peace and stability in Egypt and the region:

1. Emmanuel Macron argues that it would be "ineffective" to condition economic and military cooperation with Egypt on respect for human rights. The recent release of the three members of the NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) following unprecedented international mobilisation – ranging from the UN Secretary General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to several UN special procedures and many Western states, including France, and personalities such as actresses Scarlett Johansson and Emma Thompson – teaches us precisely the opposite. It is only by conditioning support that human rights concessions can be obtained from General al-Sisi.

2. Emmanuel Macron argues that it is important to protect Egypt as an actor of regional stability: we refute this analysis. By crushing all dissenting voices, the Egyptian authorities are trying to contain a protest that will eventually explode. Nearly all civil society figures capable of conducting this protest in a peaceful manner are in prison, and it is likely to take violent forms. The ineffectiveness and excesses of the anti-terrorist struggle in the Sinai also testify to the counter-productive nature of such policies.

3. Emmanuel Macron also deems that conditionality would weaken al-Sisi’s ability to carry out his fight against terrorism. But when most human rights defenders are thrown into prison on charges of terrorism, it is indisputable that Paris and Cairo do not have the same definition of terrorism, which renders ineffective this aspect of our cooperation.

4. Not making sales of arms and surveillance equipment conditional on Egypt’s respect for human rights would place France in violation of the Arms Trade Treaty and the Wassenaar Arrangement it has signed, which stipulate that "if there is an overriding risk that an export may facilitate a serious violation of international human rights law" then the export must be suspended. Conversely, the continued export of equipment enabling repression in Egypt puts France in the position of being potentially recognised as an accomplice to crimes committed in the context of this repression.

5. Finally, by positioning its foreign policy under the prism of realpolitik privileging economic and military relations, it made a strategic, anachronistic error, taking up the arguments of the 1980s of Ronald Reagan, who refused to make American aid to South Africa conditional on the fight against apartheid. Emmanuel Macron thus sweeps away thirty years of European common foreign and security policy that have gradually integrated human rights into the heart European Union member states’ actions.

We expect actions; rhetoric is no longer enough. And we will continue to demand the release of all those unjustly imprisoned in Egypt.

#FreeRamyShaath #FreePatrickZaki #FreeMahienour #FreeAlaa #FreeSanaa #FreeZyadElElaimy #FreeBaqer #FreeSolafa #FreeEgyptianDefenders

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