Macron rejects calls to get tough with Egypt's Sisi on rights
French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday rejected criticism of his close ties with visiting Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, saying that to take a tougher line on respect for human rights would be "counterproductive".
Ahead of their discussions Amnesty International and other rights groups accused France of having "long indulged President al-Sisi's brutal repression of any form of dissent" and said it was "now or never" for Macron to stand up for human rights.
But the French leader refrained from direct criticism of former army general Sisi, who has cracked down on supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, as well as on leftists and liberals.
"I think it is more effective to have a policy of dialogue than a policy of boycott which would reduce the effectiveness of one of our partners in the fight against terrorism and for regional stability," he said.
France views Egypt as a key ally in the fight against terrorism and an important client for its warships and fighter jets.
Ignorance and extremism
Macron and Sisi also share suspicion of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who led calls for anti-French protests and boycotts in October over Macron's defence of the right to publish cartoons mocking Islam's prophet Mohammed.
Macron spoke about the cartoons during a tribute to schoolteacher Samuel Paty who was beheaded by an Islamist extremist in October for showing his pupils Mohammed caricatures in a class on free speech.
"France has just been the victim of a campaign of hate and boycott, driven by ignorance and extremism," the French president said on Monday, thanking Sisi as "the president of a great Arab and Muslim country" for "honouring us with a visit".
Concern over Sisi's trip to Paris was amplified when three Egyptian activists were arrested last month following a meeting with foreign ambassadors.
Following an international campaign backed by celebrities including Scarlett Johansson, all three campaigners from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights were freed.
Wary of Turkey
Among the others jailed in Egypt are Palestinian-Egyptian activist Ramy Shaath, husband of French national Celine Lebrun, who has been held since July 2019 on accusations of acting against the state.
Both Macron and Sisi are wary of the regional ambitions of Turkey under Erdogan. Ankara has intervened militarily in the conflicts in Libya and Syria and sought to bolster the Turkish footprint in Africa.
The Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Morsi was a close ally of Erdogan and the Turkish president has repeatedly expressed dismay over his ousting.
Tensions between Ankara and Paris grew further in the run-up to the visit with Erdogan saying that France should "get rid of" Macron "as soon as possible".