Macron, Sisi and the business of state repression

Macron, Sisi and the business of state repression
Comment: It was clear Macron never had any intention of holding Sisi to account over his abominable human rights record, writes Malia Bouattia.
5 min read
04 Feb, 2019
France considers Egypt an ally in the fight against extremists [AFP]
Macron returned to the African continent last week, this time to Egypt. 

His address, however, differed to those of previous trips - likely something to do with the fact that France has served as Egypt's main supplier of military and security equipment since 2011, and that Macron therefore has a vested economic interest in maintaining "good relations".

In Algeria, Macron told the nation to move on from its colonial past, in Burkina Faso he mocked President Roch Marc Kabore while blaming the country for its own energy problem, and at the G20 summit he claimed that the continent had a civilizational problem, which included African women having too many children.

In Egypt, however, it seems that Macron was less ready to provide some of those blunt colonial "truths" which he so willingly dished out everywhere else.

This is a disappointment, after he 
reassured reporters last Sunday, that he would, "speak in a more forthright manner, including openly" as he faced mounting pressure by human rights groups over France's role in arming the Sisi government's repressive regime.

The French president even admitted that Egyptian state abuses had worsened since Sisi's visit to Paris in 2017. Yet, criticism was noticeably absent from Macron's official address.

Macron was less ready to provide some of those blunt colonial "truths" which he so willingly dished out everywhere else

It's clear though, that Macron never really intended to hold Sisi accountable for the imprisonment, torture, forced disappearances of countless journalists, activists, political opponents, or the murder of hundreds of protesters since he took power following a coup in 2013.

Indeed, in reality Macron's purpose in Egypt was to secure hundreds of millions of euros worth of business with Sisi, not despite, but at the cost of the Egyptian people.

While it is particularly difficult to hold Macron to account over France's complicity in Egypt's growing authoritarian repression, because its export licensing procedures are signed off and only seen by a committee which is headed up by the president himself, Amnesty International's report, Egypt: How French Arms Were Used to Crush Dissent, clarifies the extent of their use and centrality to the power of the regime.

French supplied military equipment was used to violently repress demonstrators between 2012 and 2016.

Human rights group evidenced this, for example, with photos and footage of state forces firing at protestors from armoured vehicles supplied by France.

Even during the Rabaa Square massacre in August 2013 - the most violent in Egypt's modern history that claimed hundreds of deaths – it was once again, French-made armoured vehicles that were used.

Read more: 
'Stability goes together with human rights,' Macron tells Sisi

In 2017 alone, the republic of the rights of man sold Sisi over 1.4 billion euros worth of military equipment including warships and fighter jets. In addition, the report further details the sale of technology for mass interception, personal data collection, crowd control and personal surveillance, all of which is used to repress Egypt's political opposition.

How is all of this justified? Perhaps unsurprisingly, within the framework of the so-called War on Terror.

France considers Egypt an ally in the fight against extremists, particularly from the northern Sinai region. Macron summed up the depths of their relationship when he proclaimed that "
Egypt's security is France's security."

This chimes with France's expanding influence in the region, from close cooperation with the Moroccan crown, to its military intervention in the Libya.

These relationships are solidified in order to strengthen control in a strategically important region, wage war against political opponents as well as sub-Saharan migrants, and 'stabilise' trade routes and access to natural resources.  

It seems to matter little to the French state that these 'counter-terrorism' methods include the annihilation of civil liberties, the mass destruction of homes, evictions of thousands from their residences, torture and extrajudicial killings, as documented by
Human Rights Watch.

In 2017 alone, the republic of the rights of man sold Sisi over 1.4 billion euros worth of military equipment

France remains silent in the face of these crimes, and worse is enabling them, by literally arming the perpetrators. This does nothing to point to a sense of "moving on" from colonial mentalities, which Macron was all too willing to tell the Algerians to do.

Indeed, given France's dark history of using these very tactics on the indigenous African populations across the territories that it had colonised, it is the continuity rather than the rupture which is striking.

France, which considers itself the birthplace of human rights, has come under pressure from
activists to raise the issue of human rights with Sisi [AFP]

Macron would probably argue that he had fulfilled his tasks in an incredibly subtle manner during his address, when he stated that stability and security could not be separated from human rights.

Furthermore, he requested (unsuccessfully) the release of a list of prisoners. Undoubtedly, Sisi's regime quaked in its boots at hearing those words.

None of this, of course, is enough. But then, how can one president hold another accountable for its assault on human rights and civil liberties, while financially benefitting from the continuation of such practices?

How is all of this justified? Perhaps unsurprisingly, within the framework of the so-called War on Terror

It is ironic that in 2017, Macron stated: "I believe in the sovereignty of states, and therefore, just as I don't accept being lectured on how to govern my country, I don't lecture others".

Indeed, when it comes to Africa - and more recently to Venezuela - Macron can't stop telling people and leaders what to do. And this, despite his own historically low approval rates and mass civil disobedience across the Republic, as the yellow vests protests have shown.

As it turns out, it's only when the "radical centrist" is making money out of state repression, mass violence, and murder that he remembers his promise, and respects the national sovereignty of others.

In Egypt, just as in the rest of Africa, Venezuela, or France, the people can only trust themselves.

They can equally be sure that Macron will always side with their oppressors until, he too, gets consigned to the dustbin of history.  

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.