Egypt’s Sisi in Paris in search of legitimacy, firepower
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French President François Hollande was hosting his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (pictured) on Wednesday at the start of a two-day visit in which regional security and economic investment will top the agenda.
Sisi was scheduled to have lunch with Hollande at the Elysée palace around noon, then to meet with French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in the afternoon.
France is the second stop in Sisi’s first trip to Europe, which started this week in Rome.
Criticised by the brutal repression of supporters of his Islamist predecessor Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian president has struggled to secure international legitimacy since he took office in May.
His victory at the ballot box was preceded by a coup in July 2013 that saw Morsi imprisoned and a bloody crackdown of the Muslim Brotherhood in the following weeks. More than 1,400 people have been killed and more than 15,000 have been imprisoned since Sisi came to power.
An Elysée source told the AFP news agency this week that Sisi’s legitimacy was certain, even if Paris was aware of excesses by the Egyptian government. The source said Hollande would address the heavy-handed detention of political opponents and journalists when he meets Sisi on Wednesday.
But civil rights are unlikely to be the focus of discussions, with both leaders intent on seeing greater military cooperation and economic investment between the two countries.
Egypt is struggling with jihadist groups in the northern Sinai, and it also shares a more than 1,000-km-long border with Libya. The chaos that has engulfed Cairo’s eastern neighbour since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2012 is seen as a direct threat to its own security.
During the closed-door talks in Paris on Wednesday, Hollande and Sisi are expected to go over military cooperation deals that are already in progress, including a €1 billion contract to furnish four Gowind battleships to the Egyptian Navy.
Discussions are also under way on the renewal of Egypt’s stock of French-built Mirage 2000 fighter jets, unnamed sources told AFP this week.
Sisi has made it clear that he expects European countries will help rebuilding Egypt's shattered economy in return for his commitment to combat Islamic militancy in the region.
Amnesty International has called on France to suspend all transfers of arms to Egypt in view of the "alarming" human rights abuses in the country.