PARIS (AP) — Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is paying a state visit to France for talks on fighting terrorism, the conflict in Libya and other regional issues, amid criticism from human rights groups over the Egyptian leader’s crackdown on dissent.
French President Emmanuel Macron will host el-Sissi at the Elysee Palace on Monday, and is expected to raise human rights concerns among the other topics on the agenda, according to Macron’s office.
El-Sissi has overseen the largest crackdown on critics in Egypt in living memory, jailing thousands of Islamists along with pro-democracy activists, reversing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, silencing critics and placing draconian rules on rights groups.
Days before his arrival in France, amid pressure from U.N. and Western activists, Egyptian authorities released three workers at one of the last rights groups still functioning in Egypt. The three staffers of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who were detained in November following a meeting with diplomats from Western countries, were released Thursday pending an investigation into charges of belonging to a terrorist group and spreading false news.
El-Sissi often warns that his tough hand ensuring stability is necessary, pointing to war and destruction in Syria, Yemen and Libya as the alternative.
Egypt is a U.S. ally and has deep economic ties with European countries. French authorities see Egypt as a key country in efforts to stabilize the troubled region, and Macron has warned that in the absence of Western support, Egypt could turn to the West’s authoritarian rivals China and Russia.