- Although the United States continues to be its chief provider, Egypt has diversified its weapons supply, purchasing more arms from Europe and Russia since 2014 than ever before.
- Europe and Russia have welcomed sales to Egypt (and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa) as their traditional market (NATO allies and other European states) has not grown since 2012.
- The increased ties that the arms sales have engendered between European countries and Egypt have brought about backlash for their perceived “stamp of approval” on political repression and rights abuse, both from rights groups and factions within the European Union.
Since 2014, military sales from several European countries—most notably France and Germany, along with Russia—have provided Egypt with over $20 billion in defense articles.
In April 2016, France and Egypt signed an arms deal that includes Rafale fighter aircraft, Mistral navy vessels, and a military satellite system, part of larger set of agreements regarding energy, defense, and security that are valued at $2.26 billion. In April 2017, Egypt received the second of four German submarines; the first of which was delivered in December 2016; the valuation of the two submarines is approximately 920 million euros, or just above $1 billion. Most recently, Egypt reportedly received a long-range air defense system from Russia on June 6, 2017, and is expected to receive and/or finalize details on Russian attack helicopters and fighter jets by mid-year 2017. This comes on the tail of over $9.8 billion in arms agreements between Russia and Egypt since 2008.
In the past decade, global arms markets have altered significantly. Where major Western European arms dealers once sold almost exclusively to NATO allies and other European states, they have now shifted their focus to the Middle East and North Africa. Since 2012, the global arms market has not grown in agreement or delivery values, and thus the increased competition to dominate the market has made the MENA an attractive target market.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar rank among the top arms importers of the last five years, much of which is due to purchases from Western Europe. While the US and Russia have maintained their dominance of
global market share, Western Europe has increased theirs dramatically: Between 2014 and 2016, Western European arms dealers (mainly France, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom) have increased their sales from 9 percent of the market to over 25 percent. France alone has had the largest value increase in global weapons agreements, making it the third largest arms exporter in the world only behind the US and Russia.
But the sale of weapons to MENA countries, Egypt included, has also caused backlash. Human rights groups like Amnesty International have alleged that the sale of military and policing arms to Egypt make their sellers complicit in unlawful killings, forced disappearances, and torture. Due to media restrictions within the country, it is difficult to confirm the usage of specific arms sales. However, there have been confirmations of the Egyptian military and police forces using F-16 fighter jets, Apache gunships, tanks and other personnel carriers, and pistols and rifles, including in operations that have resulted in civilian casualties.
In 2013, the EU enforced an arms embargo on Egypt to combat “internal repression” and extreme violence in the country; the embargo was reaffirmed in 2014. Then, in 2016, in the wake of the suspicious and brutal murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni, the EU parliament passed a nonbinding resolution that called for the cessation of security cooperation of any kind. Since then however, 12 of 28 EU member states have continued to sell small and large arms to Egypt.
The growing sales between Europe and Egypt can be read both as Egypt diversifying its arms sources and Europe’s need for markets in the Middle East. In the case of the former, Egypt is searching for alternative streams of military financing beyond the United States, particularly given the strained relationship under President Obama, who temporarily stalled the delivery of F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters (as well as suspended Bright Star military exercises). This tactic has been seen especially in the pomp and circumstance around large arms purchases like the Rafale fighter jets from France, although may not yield substantive changes on the ground, as problems of interoperability arise.
Regardless, Egypt has found more than willing suppliers in Europe and Russia. Most European countries readily view sales as positive for the domestic revenues that they generate. As noted, the Middle East has rapidly increased its purchase of weapons, becoming a new and welcome market for the defense industry worldwide, and Egypt is no outlier. Particularly in the case of Russia, the strengthening of a military-military relationship also may bring about some benefit in political influence as well.
While both buyer and seller may term their commitment to arms deals in terms of the need to combat terrorism and contribute to Egypt’s security, the types of items sold have rarely been used in the fight against terrorism (whether within Egypt or outside). Serious concerns thus remain about the supportive message the sale of arms sends to a country that continues to engage in questionable counter-terror practices and an escalated political repression.
 By contrast, the United States has provided $1.3 billion annually in foreign military financing to Egypt, though the actual total in arms sales or delivery may be more due to programs like Cash Flow Financing (to be discontinued in 2018), which allows Egypt to buy arms on credit, or provision of arms through other channels, like the Excess Defense Articles program.