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Egyptian authorities expel French journalist amidst media crackdown

Exclusive to The Middle East Online

Edited by Nelly Tawil

The Egyptian authorities expelled a French journalist this week further highlighting the crackdown on press freedoms by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egyptian and French officials said on Wednesday.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, that the journalist, Rémy Pigaglio, was blocked for unspecified security reasons, a French official said.

“France deeply regrets this decision by the Egyptian authorities,” a spokesman for Mr. Ayrault said.

Mr. Pigaglio had worked in Egypt for almost two years and had residency permits and media accreditation that allowed him to do so legally, according to an article in the French newspaper La Croix, one of several outlets that Mr. Pigaglio contributed to. Egyptian security agents detained him at the Cairo airport on Monday as he was returning to Egypt from a 10-day vacation. He was held for 30 hours before security agents deported him without giving a reason, La Croix reported.

Egypt’s authorities previously to this incident only targeted Egyptian journalists, taking full advantage of their authority over the past two years, however they have been reluctant to utilise that power against foreign journalists, fearing unwanted international scrutiny.

It is even more unusual for the government, with its emphasis on procedural rules, to take action against international correspondents who have been accredited to work in Egypt.

The decision has fuelled tensions between France and Egypt at a time when French President François Hollande has been forging stronger ties with Mr. Sisi’s government. The strain couldn’t have come at a worse time as both France and Egypt cooperate to locate the debris of EgyptAir Flight 804, which went down into the Mediterranean last week during a flight from Paris to Cairo. Investigators are searching for the airplane’s cockpit data and voice recorders – the black boxes – to explain the flight’s decent soon after it crossed into Egyptian airspace.

Officials in Paris consider Mr. Al Sisi a bulwark against Islamic radicalism in the region and have signed billions of dollars of deals to sell high-tech weapons to Egypt over the past year. A delegation from the French parliament was in Cairo on an official visit at the time of Mr. Pigaglio’s detention.

Amnesty International, a human rights organisation, said in a statement that France and 12 other European countries should suspend weapons sales to Egypt. Otherwise, the group said, the European countries risk “complicity in a wave of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and torture” that the group claims have been carried out by the police and government forces.

Under Mr. Sis’s rule Egypt has denied entry to a handful of foreign researchers and groups seems as critical of the regime, while jailing some 19 Egyptian journalists on a range of charges.

In February, Egypt’s treatment of foreign residents came under a harsh spotlight when Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni, who was researching labor movements in Egypt, was found dead in a ditch with signs of torture on his body. Italian officials and Egyptian rights groups have suggested Egypt’s security services were involved in his death, something Egypt denies. Italy has recalled its ambassador to Egypt in protest at what it calls the government’s lack of cooperation in investigating the student’s death.