Egypt, Saudi Arabia ‘desperate’ to purchase Mistral warships
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Egypt and Saudi Arabia are interested in buying two French Mistral warships that had been sold to Russia before Paris scrapped the deal, French media reported Friday, citing an official French source.
"Egypt and Saudi Arabia are desperate to buy two Mistrals," an unnamed official French source told France’s leading daily, Le Monde. “King Salman of Saudi Arabia wants to build a fleet in Egypt which could project regional power in the Red Sea and Mediterranean," said the source. "Some countries in the region have displayed a marked interest in the Mistrals with the aim of establishing a [regional] maritime force.”
The report of Egyptian and Saudi interest in acquiring the two French-made warships came a day after French President François Hollande attended a ceremony marking the inauguration of a major Suez Canal extension in the Egyptian port city of Ismailia Thursday.
Speaking to reporters in Ismailia, Hollande said France would have “no difficulty” finding buyers for the Mistrals originally bound for Russia.
Two of the 200-metre (650-foot) amphibious helicopter carriers were due for delivery to Russia by the end of this year in a deal worth an estimated €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion).
But Paris delayed, and eventually refused, to deliver the warships to Moscow over Russia's suspected backing of separatists in east Ukraine.
Hollande's office announced late Wednesday that a deal had been reached with President Vladimir Putin to pay Russia compensation for cancelling the delivery of the two Mistrals. Russia will be "fully reimbursed" for the warships, the Elysée Palace said in a statement.
A joint Arab force
Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s reported interest in the French warships comes as the two Sunni powers have been pushing for a joint Arab force to counter the threat of Islamist militancy on the heels of an Iran nuclear deal that has rattled several Sunni Arab regimes.
On July 30, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Defence Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signed a “Cairo Declaration” aimed at boosting military ties and economic cooperation between the two countries.
In a statement announcing the signing of the Cairo Declaration, the Egyptian presidential office noted that, “The two sides stressed the need to exert all efforts to boost security and stability in the region, and to work together to protect Arab national security,” in what was widely viewed as a reference to Shiite Iran’s growing influence in the region.
Saudi Arabia has been instrumental in keeping the Egyptian economy afloat following Sisi’s ouster of the democratically elected former Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi. Despite international condemnation over Morsi’s ouster, oil-rich Saudi Arabia gave Egypt a financial assistance package of more than €3.7 billion (4 billion USD).
France, Egypt cooperation in fight against Islamist violence
Military ties between France and Egypt, the world’s most populous Arab nation, have also strengthened two years after Morsi’s ouster.
In November 2014, during a state visit to France, Sisi reached an agreement in principle on the sale of 24 French-made Rafale fighter jets and a FREMM multipurpose frigate. The deal was finalised in February.
During his latest visit to Egypt, Hollande reiterated France’s will to "give Egypt the means to act” in the fighter against Islamist violence in the region. "Today, relations between France and Egypt are based on common interests: the fight against terrorism and security," said Hollande, recalling the increased terrorist threat in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Egypt.
Sisi has been at the forefront of calling for the Arab force to fight insurgents in the region after the Islamic State (IS) group in February executed 21 Coptic Christians, all but one of them Egyptian, in Libya.