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France and Egypt secretly sign new arms agreement

The terms of the agreement include the purchase of 30 Rafale fighter jets by Egypt
Un caza Rafale de la Fuerza Aérea francesa, Francia ha acordado vender 30 aviones de combate Rafale más a Egipto, dijo una fuente cercana al contrato el 3 de mayo de 2021, confirmando un informe en línea de un acuerdo secreto de mega-defensa. REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES

REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES  -   A French Air Force Rafale fighter, France has agreed to sell 30 more Rafale fighter jets to Egypt, a source close to the contract said on May 3, 2021, confirming an online report of a secret mega-defence deal.

France concluded three arms deals with Egypt on Tuesday. The first involves the sale of 30 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault for 3.75 billion euros, while the remaining agreements include the services of missile supplier MBDA and equipment distributor Safran Electronics & Defence for 200 million euros. 

Paris is hosting the Egyptian delegation to seal the deal on Tuesday, but representatives of the two states initialled the document on 26 April, according to the Disclose news portal. The agreement has been kept secret since then at the request of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

El caza Rafale de la Fuerza Aérea francesa durante una presentación del Ejército del Aire y del Espacio francés en la base aérea BA 105 Evreux-Fauville, Francia REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES
REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES-The French Air Force Rafale fighter during a French Air and Space Force presentation at BA 105 Evreux-Fauville air base, France.

The Egyptian Ministry of Defence announced that the purchase would be financed through a loan to be repaid over the next 10 years. Paris has undertaken to extend a credit of approximately 85% of the total amount to Cairo. The French Treasury will undertake the transaction in partnership with Crédit Agricole, Société Générale, BNP and CIC despite Egypt's deep indebtedness. 

Egypt has a fleet of US F-16 fighters and signed an agreement with Russia for the purchase of 24 SU-35 and 50 MiG-35 fighters, but the country's arms plans include seeking new suppliers and boosting military relations with various arms-producing states. Although Egypt's Ministry of State for Military Production has drawn up a plan to develop its own weapons materials. 

Gráfico que ilustra el caza polivalente Rafale. Incluye las especificaciones AFP/ PAZ PIZARRO
AFP/ PAZ PIZARRO-Graphic illustrating the Rafale multirole fighter. Includes specifications

Egypt's foreign policy has sought various sources of armaments in recent years and, as a result, it maintains military relations with different arms-manufacturing countries. However, Egypt's Ministry of State for Military Production has drawn up an integrated plan to develop the country's military manufacturing system, worth EGP 7.3 billion.

In the field of armaments, relations between France and Egypt have been smooth. France was Egypt's main arms supplier between 2013 and 2017. In fact, Egypt was the first state to buy Rafale fighter jets when Dassault began production in 2015 with the order of 24 aircraft. France then guaranteed 60% of the loan signed by Cairo to cover the cost of the contract.

Un ingeniero trabaja en un avión de combate Rafale de la Armada francesa, en la bahía del hangar del portaaviones Charles de Gaulle, actualmente amarrado en el puerto de Limassol REUTERS/STEFANOS KOURATZIS
REUTERS/STEFANOS KOURATZIS-An engineer works on a French Navy Rafale fighter jet in the hangar bay of the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, currently moored in the port of Limassol.

Simultaneously with the agreement, National Assembly deputies Jacques Maire and Michelle Tabarot, from the ruling LREM party and the conservative Les Républicains party, have pushed a joint proposal to establish stricter parliamentary control over arms exports. The proposal includes the creation of a parliamentary commission to examine the nature of arms sales and the profile of those who receive them, but the Elysée's lack of transparency on the issue reflects Macron's position. 

France and Egypt, obliged partners

Six months have passed since French President Emanuel Macron welcomed his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the Elysée Palace. Harsh criticism from human rights groups, journalists and NGOs did not sway Macron, who prepared a grand reception for al-Sisi. This included a ceremony at the Hôtel des Invalides monument and a state dinner at the Elysée Palace, as well as the awarding of the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour.

Fotografia de archivo del 7 de diciembre de 2020, el presidente francés Emmanuel Macron recibe al presidente egipcio Abdel Fattah al-Sisi en el Palacio del Elíseo en París.  REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES
REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES-File photo from 7 December 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron receives Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

Macron's recognition of the Egyptian leader paid off, as Dassault Aviation CEO Éric Trappier was received at Al-Sisi's residence in Paris and, just a month later, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian travelled to Cairo to meet his Egyptian counterpart.

The reasons that compel France to establish a future bilateral relationship with Egypt are varied. First and foremost, there is the complex situation in Libya, with the challenge of implementing a democratic transition. The role of both countries is to facilitate stability and expel all foreign forces intervening in the country, mostly from Turkey.

Aviones de combate Rafale de la Marina antes de despegar en la cubierta del portaaviones francés Charles de Gaulle en el mar Mediterráneo, como parte de la Operación Arromanches III AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG
AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG-Navy Rafale fighter jets before taking off on the deck of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Mediterranean Sea as part of Operation Arromanches III.

Macron aims to gain a presence in the Middle East, so he needs to develop his bilateral relations with the states present in the region and minimise the influence of Turkey, with which he has strong disagreements. The exchange of accusations with Erdogan in the wake of the Islamist attacks has driven a wedge between the two. 

The feud with Turkey prompted France's latest arms sale. Greece bought 18 Rafale fighter jets to protect its interests in the eastern Mediterranean, the open front with the Ottoman state. The final front underpinning Paris-Cairo cooperation is their joint engagement in the fight against jihadist terrorism.