France’s decision to sell 30 Rafale fighter jets to Egypt has been condemned by Human Rights Watch (HRW) for “encouraging ruthless repression” under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Egypt’s defence ministry announced in a statement early on Tuesday that it had signed a contract with France to buy the jets, in a deal that the investigative website Disclose said was worth 3.75bn euro ($4.5bn).
President Emmanuel Macron said in December he would not make the sale of weapons to Egypt conditional on human rights because he did not want to weaken Cairo’s ability to counter terrorism in the region, a comment that drew the ire of critics.
Macron, who made the comments during a visit to Paris by Sisi, was criticised by human rights groups for inviting the Egyptian president to France despite the widely documented repression of political opposition in Egypt.
Egypt’s defence ministry said the deal would be financed through a loan to be repaid over at least 10 years, but did not disclose the value of the deal or further details.
Citing confidential documents, Disclose said on Monday that an agreement had been concluded at the end of April and a deal could be sealed on Tuesday when an Egyptian delegation arrives in Paris.
Diclose said: “The opacity surrounding these new contracts says a lot about the (French) executive’s opposition to being accountable.”
HRW director for France, Benedicte Jeannerod, told Reuters: “By signing a mega-arms contract with 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.”
The deal would be a further boost for the Dassault-made warplane after a 2.5bn euro ($3bn) agreement was finalised in January for the sale of 18 Rafales to Greece.
The Egyptian accord also reportedly covers contracts for missile provider MBDA and French aeronautic equipment provider Safran Electronics & Defense, which are worth another 200 million euros ($240m).
France’s finance, foreign and armed forces ministries were not immediately available for comment, Reuters reported.
Paris 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, including deals for more Rafale jets and warships that had been at an advanced stage.
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 concerns Paris had with the human rights situation in Egypt.
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.
Under Sisi, Egypt has seen a widespread crackdown against human rights groups and independent media.
Egyptian authorities are accused of detaining more than 60,000 political prisoners since Sisi ousted his democratically elected predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, in a 2013 military coup. Harsh conditions in Egypt’s prisons have led to the deaths of scores of prisoners, including Morsi, in 2019, while executions of prisoners under terrorism laws have been ramped up.
Those jailed in Egypt include Palestinian-Egyptian activist Ramy Shaath, husband of French national Celine Lebrun, held since July 2019 on accusations of acting against the state.
However, citing the political vacuum in Libya, instability across the region and the threat from militant groups in Egypt, Paris and Cairo have cultivated closer economic and military ties since Sisi’s rise to power.
Rights organisations have accused Macron of turning a blind eye to the increasing violations of freedoms by Sisi’s government.
French officials dismiss this and 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.