Egypt has 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 defence ministry revealed the deal in a statement early on Tuesday.

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 violence in the region.

Egypt’s defence 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.

Citing confidential documents, Disclose said an agreement had been concluded at the end of April and could be sealed on Tuesday when an Egyptian delegation arrives in Paris.

This deal would be a further boost for the Dassault-made fighter jet after a $3.01bn agreement was finalised in January for the sale of 18 Rafales jets to Greece.

Qatar and India have also signed agreements with France, turning the plane into one of the country’s main defence industry successes.

The Egyptian accord also reportedly covers contracts for missile manufacturer MBDA and equipment provider Safran Electronics & Defense which are worth another $241m.

France’s finance, foreign and armed forces ministries were not immediately available for comment.

Encouraging ruthless repression

France was the main weapons supplier to Egypt between 2013-2017, including the sale of 24 warplanes with an option for 12 more.

Those contracts dried up, however, including deals that had been at an advanced stage for more Rafale jets and warships.

Diplomats said that was as much to do with financing issues over fears about Cairo’s long-term ability to repay state-backed guaranteed loans, rather than any concerns Paris had with the human rights situation in Egypt.

Benedicte Jeannerod, the Human Rights Watch director for France, condemned the deal outright.The deal came in the wake of a hugely contentious state visit to Paris by Egypt’s el-Sisi in December hosted by Macron [File: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters]“By signing a mega-arms contract with [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-] Sisi’s government while the latter presides over the worst repression in decades in Egypt, the eradication of the human rights community in the country and undertakes extremely serious violations under the pretext of the fight against terrorism, France is only encouraging this ruthless repression,” Jeannerod told the Reuters news agency.

Disclose said financing for the deal would be up to 85 percent guaranteed by the French state with BNP Paribas SA, Credit Agricole, Societe Generale and CIC, which funded the original deal, signing up again. The banks were not immediately available for comment.

Concerned by the political vacuum in Libya, instability across the region and the threat from armed groups in Egypt, both countries have cultivated closer economic and military ties since el-Sisi’s rise to power.

Human rights organisations have accused Macron of turning a blind eye to what they say are increasing violations of freedoms by el-Sisi’s government.

French officials say Paris is following a policy of not openly criticising countries over human rights so as to be more effective in private on a case-by-case basis.

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 secular rule of former army general el-Sisi, with common interests in the Middle East and a shared suspicion of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Macron decorated el-Sisi with France’s highest honour, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, during the visit.

That enraged activists who had asked him not to roll out the red carpet but instead to raise concerns about the estimated 60,000 political prisoners languishing in Egyptian prisons.

The French president also 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.

SOURCE: AFP, REUTERS

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