French President Emmanuel Macron has defied widespread criticism of his close ties with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi over flagrant human rights violations in the African country, saying Paris will not take a tough line on the government in Cairo and would not condition the sale of weapons as well as military equipment to Egypt.
Macron made the comment on Monday as he hosted Sisi, whom he referred to as his "friend," for talks on the second day of his three-day official visit to France.
The Egypt president has long been facing international condemnation for his crackdown on political and civil society groups since he took power in 2014, a year after a military coup spearheaded by him toppled the country’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi.
Amnesty International and other rights groups, ahead of the two presidents' meeting in the Elysee Palace, censured France for having "long indulged President el-Sisi's brutal repression of any form of dissent," and said it was "now or never" for Macron to stand up for human rights.
Macron told a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart on Monday that he had brought up the issue of human rights during their discussions, but said he would not condition France's deepening military and trade ties with Egypt on the issue of rights.
"I will not condition matters of defense and economic cooperation on these disagreements over human rights… There is a strategic partnership between France and Egypt, and we will continue progress to improve the situation,” the French president said.
French officials also dismissed rights-related criticism, claiming that the government had a policy of avoiding public declarations about other countries' rights records and instead raises concerns in private.
Macron has already been taken to task by French rights activist groups for turning a blind eye to the increasing violations of freedoms by Sisi's government over the past years.
Since the Sisi coup, Egyptian authorities have been engaged in a crackdown on dissent, killing hundreds and arresting thousands, particularly from the Brotherhood organization, which is Egypt’s oldest opposition movement.
Rights groups in Egypt and across the world say the Cairo government has detained thousands of people, including 200 people who have been sentenced to death in mass trials.
Egyptian courts have sentenced some 3,000 people to death since 2014, when Sisi took power, according to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, an independent organization that documents human rights violations in the Middle East and North Africa.
The figure compares with fewer than 800 death sentences in the previous six years, according to Amnesty International.