You came, you saw but you failed to conquer hearts and minds. Egypt welcomed you in friendship. You and France’s First Lady were treated as honoured guests with genuine warmth. Your visit was meant to cement economic, strategic and cultural relations and, indeed, officials signed agreements worth €1.6 billion (Dh6.72 billion) but that’s where the good news ended.
When greeted by your Egyptian counterpart your demeanour was cordial, bordering on cool. It emerged that you came not to praise but to criticise.
Even before you were graciously received by your host you spoke to the media condemning Egypt on human rights and repeated the same criticisms during a joint press conference with President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, whose riposte was untypically emotionally charged.
You will remember he told you not to view Egypt through a Western prism. “We are part of a turbulent region. A big project failed and that was establishing a theocratic state,” he said while highlighting that his nation has been battling against terrorism for five years alone. He rightly underscored his programme of providing furnished apartments to those living in poor housing, advances in treating people suffering with cancer and hepatitis C for which over half the population has been tested. And he highlighted that the controversial NGO law is currently being amended. Were you surprised at the ripples of laughter at the press conference when Egyptian journalists pulled you up on your own human rights record? You insisted that the 11 ‘yellow vest’ protesters who lost their lives over recent weeks did not die at the hands of your police. Must we assume that they committed suicide?
“In December, Amnesty International called for the French police to ‘end the use of excessive force against protesters and high school children’ after several cases of police injuring not only ‘yellow vests’, but also journalists, and even humiliating school pupils in a shocking viral video, goes the article penned by Pauline Bock. We have seen the videos, Sir. We know that your police use rubber bullets and have made mass arrests. We have seen the snipers on rooftops and bleeding youngsters being dragged along the ground.
Bravo for keeping a straight face when attacking Egypt for restricting protests when your own prime minister has announced tougher laws on protests are coming soon?
Your country has been a victim of devastating terrorist attacks and emergency laws were imposed just as they are in Egypt still recovering from back-to-back revolutions. I am a first-hand witness to Egypt’s trajectory. President Al Sissi stood up to be counted at a critical point when Egypt was heading in the direction of being a Sunni-dominated clone of Iran. Against all odds, he has delivered safety and security to the Egyptian people. He spearheads the battle against extremist thought and works to bring people of different faiths together. Did it not occur to you to congratulate the government on the country’s economic recovery, impressive new infrastructure and self-sufficiency in energy thanks to the discovery of major gasfields?
Did those whispering in your ear forget to inform you that unemployment and inflation are way down, foreign reserves the highest in history and growth the strongest in ten years at 5.7 per cent? The president is focusing on delivering the most crucial human rights of all to 100 million—shelter, healthcare, education and jobs. His priority is dragging his people out of poverty not pandering to those bent on bringing Egypt to its knees. What have you done, sir, for the 3,000 homeless living on your streets in freezing temperatures or for the people of North African origin who largely live in virtual ghettoes? Have you chastised the Libyan government for permitting slave markets? On second thoughts, there isn’t one that is functioning as a result of your nation’s ‘noble’ military intervention to improve Libyans’ human rights.
May I respectfully say that a leader whose own nation is in turmoil, and whose approval rating hovers between 23 and 27 per cent, might be wise to think twice about lecturing others on their own soil. Egyptians I’ve spoken with are angry. What exactly did your public grandstanding achieve when your holier than thou stance has merely served to shine a spotlight on you?
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.