Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi says that Egyptian authorities do not use force against unarmed demonstrators, stressing that protesting is a right guaranteed by law and the constitution.
The president made the comments during a joint press conference with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, where the two leaders exchanged viewpoints on the issue of human rights.
When asked by a French journalist about whether French-made weapons were used by Egyptian authorities against protesters, Macron said that once in 2013 France had raised concerns about a French-made armoured vehicle being used to crack down on protesters.
Macron also said that no new potential military contracts have been discussed in his talks with El-Sisi, with the exception of a possible deal for 12 fighter jets.
El-Sisi affirmed that no armoured vehicles have been used to crack down on protests in the country from the period between 2011 till now.
"We ask people to protest within the law," El-Sisi said, referring to the country's 2013 protest law.
Macron was asked by an Egyptian journalist about the ongoing "yellow vest protests" in France, which have led to the deaths of 11 people since demonstrations started in November.
"[The protesters] have all the freedom to express their opinions. This is democracy, and such freedom is guaranteed by the constitution," Macron said, adding that he regrets the deaths of the French citizens during the protests, yet insisting they were not the result of police violence.
Yesterday, Macron told reporters on the sidelines of his visit that Egypt's current human rights record is perceived as being more hardline than that of former president Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.
When asked about these statements by an Egyptian journalist, Macron said he would not be an honest friend to Egypt if he did not say what is on his mind.
Macron also said that during El-Sisi's visit to Paris in October 2017, the French president had broached the issue of human rights, but that the discussion had gone in "another direction." Macron had said at the time that there are Egyptian bloggers and intellectuals in jail, and that some of the "individual cases" he mentioned to El-Sisi do not "undermine stability."
The French president had been heavily criticised in France for not addressing the issue of human rights with Egypt and France's sale of weapons to the Arab country. Macron said at the time that he "would not lecture" the Egyptian president on human rights.
In response to Macron's comments, El-Sisi said that Egypt "is not like Europe or the US," and that it has its own special circumstances. El-Sisi asked people not to forget "that the country is located in a troubled region," adding that Egypt had successfully defeated plan to establish a religious state.
"I stand today here through an Egyptian will, and if such a will is no longer there, I will not stay [remain in power]," El-Sisi said, adding that 45,000 NGOs are operating in the country, and that Egypt is currently holding a dialogue with civil society regarding amendments to a controversial law that has been described as limiting NGO activities.
El-Sisi also highlighted that Egypt is providing proper housing for 250,000 people living in slums despite the country's dire economic situation and its ongoing fight against terrorism.
The Egyptian president added that waiting lists at public hospitals have gone up from 10,000 people a year to 10,000 a month.
"Given these efforts, is Egypt not implementing human rights standards from a different perspective than the one you see?" he said.
"Egypt will not rise up with bloggers… Egypt will develop with effort and patience," El-Sisi said. "What should I do with employment? Rising population? How do we solve these problems? Tell me."
El-Sisi also said that "bloggers speak a language that is different from the reality in which we live," adding that Egypt has nothing to hide or be ashamed of.
"We lead our state with honesty and integrity," he said.
"We do not want to confine the issue of human rights in Egypt to freedom of expression, people's opinions are one thing, and the destruction of the state is another," he said.
"You should not look at us from a European perspective… just like we do not look at you from our Egyptian perspective… because that would not be fair."