Egypt signed a contract with France to buy 30 Rafale fighter jets in a deal that investigative website Disclose said was worth $4.5bn. Egypt’s defense ministry revealed early on May 4th.
Egypt’s defense ministry said the deal would be financed through a loan to be repaid over at least 10 years but did not give details about the value of the deal or any other information.
President Emmanuel Macron said in December he would not make the sale of weapons to Egypt conditional on a commitment to respect human rights because he did not want to weaken Cairo’s ability to counter terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula.
Citing confidential documents, Disclose said an agreement had been concluded at the end of April and could be finalized when an Egyptian delegation arrives in Paris on May 4th. It appears Disclose was right.
This is far from the first such agreement between Paris and Cairo: in particular, the Egyptians acquired a huge consignment of weapons and equipment in 2016.
In addition to 24 Rafale fighters, it included two Mistral universal amphibious assault ships originally built for Russia, which the Elysee Palace refused to transfer to the Russian Navy after the imposition of sanctions. Corvettes of the Govind-2500 class are also being built under a French license at the shipyards of Alexandria.
Military contracts for France are not only a way to increase influence and market their products, but are also intended to strengthen Egypt against Turkey. Likewise, Paris can indirectly oppose Ankara’s plans in North Africa.
While Egypt has around $125 billion external debt, its military leader buys more weapons for nothing but his enhancing his image, prestige, and appeasing western allies.
France to sell Egypt 30 fighter jets in $4.5 bln deal -report https://t.co/JVHZ21zqmd
— Dr.Khalil al-ِِAnani د. خليل العناني (@Khalilalanani) May 3, 2021
The deal also came in the wake of a hugely contentious state visit to Paris by el-Sisi in December hosted by Macron.
Egypt and France have enjoyed an increasingly close relationship under the leadership of former army general el-Sisi, with common interests in the Middle East and a shared suspicion of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The French president ruled out making France’s deepening defence and trade ties with Egypt conditional on the issue of rights.
“I think it is more effective to have a policy of dialogue than a policy of boycott which would reduce the effectiveness of one of our partners in the fight against terrorism and for regional stability,” Macron said.
Egypt needs to diversify its weapon purchases, as the US no longer views it as a key ally after President Hosni Mubarak was deposed in 2011, and then the two subsequent presidents were not as friendly towards Israel as he was.
Israel has two combat-ready squadrons of 24 F-35 fighter jets, and in February 2021 approved the purchase of a third, along with airborne tankers to increase their range.
Egypt says former US President Donald Trump pledged to sell Cairo 20 F-35 aircraft when he met el-Sisi at the UN General Assembly on 24 September 2018, but that turned out to be an empty promise.
After the UAE normalized relations with Israel in September 2020, this opens the way for another key ally in the Middle East, and Egypt is likely feeling abandoned.
The Trump administration informally notified Congress last year of its plans to sell 50 F-35 fighters to the UAE, for up to $10.4 billion, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly agreed to it.
During this period, Russia seized the diplomatic initiative and became el-Sisi’s new interlocutor. France, evidently, also wasted no chances.
In order for relations between US and Egypt to improve, Washington needs to drop its positions on alleged human rights abuses by Cairo.
“There is a position of the US against human rights problems in Egypt,” retired Egyptian army general Gamal Mazloum told Al Jazeera, adding, “They must drop it.”
“Since the new president [Biden] of the United States [took office] he did not call president al-Fattah el-Sisi. There is no connection between them at all … It is not good.”
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