French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arrived in Cairo on Monday to sign a €5.2 billion contract for the sale of 24 Rafale fighter jets to Egypt, a move that will finalise the first foreign order of the French-built warplanes.
The deal comes despite concerns over France’s decision to sell arms to a government accused of multiple human rights abuses.
Le Drian arrived in Egypt’s capital Cairo to sign the contract, which France hopes will lead to further sales of its premier combat jet.
The deal is a boon to cash-strapped France, which is diverting three jets away from its own air force for the delivery due later this year.
French President François Hollande said the agreement – clinched in only three months of negotiation – provided Cairo with "a quality aircraft" and was important for Egypt "taking into account the threats existing around the country."
With Libya wracked by instability to the west and the threat from Islamic State group-linked militants to the east, Egypt plays a key role in providing stability in a troubled region, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday.
France is also hoping the deal will act as a catalyst to unblock hoped-for sales to other countries.
Eric Trappier, chief executive of Dassault Aviation, which manufactures the jet, said he was "very confident" that three years of exclusive talks with India on the sale of 126 Rafale jets worth 12 billion euros would soon result in a deal.
He said talks were slow as India wanted some of the jets built at home in a bid to boost manufacturing, meaning that every nut and bolt had to be discussed.
France is also eyeing possible deals with Qatar and Malaysia.
"It is probable that this will have a positive impact on other prospects... but we have to be cautious," Fabius told reporters on Sunday.
Attempts to sell the jet to countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Morocco, Switzerland and Brazil have seen the Rafale lose out to its foreign competitors.
'Alarming' rights abuses
Although the deal has been welcomed in France, it has sparked outrage among some groups over perceived human rights abuses in Egypt.
Rights group Amnesty International attacked the decision to sell the 24 jets and a frigate to a nation it accused of "alarming" human rights abuses.
Current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was elected in May 2014 with 96.91 percent of the vote, a year after toppling the country's first freely elected leader Mohammed Morsi.
A subsequent crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood supporters left at least 1,400 dead and thousands more in jail.
"Just because we are selling these Rafales to Egypt doesn't mean we agree with every point in their domestic policy," said Fabius. "When there are excesses that are committed, we tell the Egyptian authorities – from our point of view – and we are hoping to move step by step towards more democracy."
"But the stability of Egypt is a very important point," he added.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2015-02-16