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France honours Egypt with country's highest award, bans press from ceremony

President of France, Emmanuel Macron (L) welcomes President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (R) prior to talks at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France on 7 December 2020. [Julien Mattia - Anadolu Agency]
President of France, Emmanuel Macron (L) welcomes President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (R) prior to talks at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France on 7 December 2020. [Julien Mattia - Anadolu Agency]

France tried to stop media finding out about a national press award ceremony where it awarded the Egyptian president the Grand Cross of the Legion Honour.

An investigation by Le Quotidien revealed that French media were not allowed to attend the ceremony where President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was given the country's highest award.

The event was deliberately not listed on the Elysee Palace website, according to the programme.

The recent visit of Al-Sisi to France has been the focus of intense criticism by human rights advocates who have called on the French government to raise the issue of human rights violations in Egypt, rather than continue to turn a blind eye.

READ: Netanyahu to visit Egypt in first official visit in decade

The meeting between the Egyptian president and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron came not long after the arrest of three senior staff members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) who were incarcerated after they attended a meeting with Western diplomats in Cairo to discuss human rights concerns in the country.

They were released, but 60,000 political prisoners remain in jail where they are systematically tortured and denied medical attention, family visits and their basic human rights.

A particular focus after news of the meeting was announced was arms sales between the two countries, which in 2019 hit $1.1 billion, despite France's international obligations prohibiting arms sales to countries where there is a high risk they could be used to carry out serious rights violations.

In January, Germany's Semperopernball Opera House in Dresden awarded the Order of St. George to Al-Sisi supposedly in recognition of his peace-making efforts in North Africa.

Pressure mounted on the organisation to withdraw the award until the head of the organisers' association admitted it was a mistake but still presented it.

READ: Macron, Sisi and the human rights struggle in the Arab world

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