PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron gave his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al Sisi his country’s highest award on his state visit to Paris this week, a presidential official said on Thursday, adding to controversy over the hugely contentious trip.

Activists who had warned Macron not to roll out the red carpet to Sisi were already enraged by the French leader’s refusal to condition deepening defence and trade ties with Egypt on its respect for human rights.

Macron decorated Sisi with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour during the visit, said a French presidential official, insisting that the gesture was an unavoidable part of protocol on a state visit.

“The bestowing of awards is one of the traditional elements of state visits, which are rare, with just one to two per year in France,” added a French diplomatic source.

“And as they are heads of state, they receive the highest distinction”, said the source.

Images of the ceremony only emerged after they were published by the Egyptian presidency.

It was the Egyptian delegation that filmed the event. The award ceremony did not feature on the official agenda given to French reporters.

French media were also barred from filming other stages of his visit to Paris, including his arrival at the presidential palace for a state dinner and his meeting with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo.

French broadcaster TMC later aired footage found on the website of the Egyptian presidency.

Other heads of state to have been given the Legion of Honour have included the kings of Spain, Netherlands and Morocco and also Russian President Vladimir Putin, who received the Legion of Honour in 2006.

France also bestowed the award on Syrian President Bashar al Assad in 2001, although Macron launched a procedure to strip him of the honour due to the Syrian civil war. Assad himself gave it back after Paris took part in air strikes on Syria.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2020

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