France Under EU Pressure for Surveillance Sales to Egypt
By: Ahmed Fathi
The European Commission has questioned France if it has permitted the transfer of cyber-surveillance technology to Egypt, where tales of repression have been widespread under President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
"My services are in contact with the French competent authority to clarify the circumstances of these cases and their compliance with EU export regulations," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a letter to French Green MEP Mounir Satouri, wrote the EUobserver
Sautouri and a handful of other EU legislators urged action from the European Commission in December following a revelation by Disclose, a French-based media outlet and advocacy organization, claiming France permitted the sale of monitoring software supplied by a number of French firms.
The investigation focuses on intimate relations between some European countries and El-Sisi administration, which has been accused of arbitrary killings and torture but also collaborates with the EU in combating irregular migration and terror networks.
"The current French government puts its commercial relationship with Egypt on arms sales and other exports ahead of the protection of human rights and longer-term strategic concerns," Satouri stated in an emailed statement to EUobserver.
Von der Leyen's participation is especially uncomfortable for France's current EU presidency, as well as for French President Emmanuel Macron, who bestowed the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour on El-Sisi in late 2020.
According to Disclose, the sale was approved by French export officials at the French Ministry of Economy. When asked about suspected sales to Egypt on Wednesday, French government officials in Brussels declined to comment.
The investigation comes fewer than ten days before the EU-African Union conference on the 17th and 18th of February, at which El-Sisi is due to attend.
"Rolling out the red carpet for Sisi while his government is responsible for horrendous, systematic abuses would be extremely problematic, to put it mildly," Human Rights Watch's Claudio Francavilla said.
Earlier this month, over 170 national MPs and European politicians signed a combined petition requesting that the UN establish a human rights monitoring mechanism to investigate the regime's breaches.
According to Leslie Piquemal of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies' Brussels office, the monitoring equipment that was the focus of von der Leyen's letter would most certainly be exploited by Egyptian authorities.
Surveillance technology is "very clearly being used to facilitate the crackdown on dissent by monitoring online communication, and we presume also locating people using their devices," she added.