EGYPT’S president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Wednesday begins a two-day trip to France, the second leg of a first European tour aimed at bringing Egypt out of the diplomatic cold after he oversaw a crackdown that damaged Cairo’s international reputation.
Sisi was due to hold talks with French counterpart Francois Hollande later Wednesday likely to focus on the chaos in Libya as well as bilateral economic cooperation.
Ahead of the trip, French officials were at pains to stress the importance of Egypt as a regional player, despite the condemnation that followed Sisi’s overthrow of his elected Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi and deadly crackdown on opponents.
“Yes, we consider Sisi as legitimate. But there’s a lot to talk about,” said a source close to Hollande, who declined to be named.
Egypt is a “great country and a big partner for France”.
Sisi arrives from Italy, where he was hailed as a “strategic partner” of Rome and Europe, in the latest sign of Cairo’s international rehabilitation.
This is partly due to shared problems and enemies, notably the lawlessness in Libya and the Islamic State.
Sisi hopes to coordinate an international response to fighting in Libya between government-backed troops and Islamist militias.
Hollande has described Libya’s descent into chaos after the 2012 overthrow of Muammar Gadhafi as his “major concern”, sounding the alarm over what Paris has termed a “terrorist hub”.
The Egyptians “have the feeling that they weren’t heard in 2011 when they warned of the dangers of a Western intervention. They hope to be heard today,” said a French government source.
“They believe we need to re-intervene in Libya but we doubt that this crisis can be solved purely by force,” added the source.
Hollande and Sisi will also talk business, with France hoping to sell Mirage 2000 combat jets to the Egyptian military.
French shipbuilder DCNS has already signed a contract estimated at $1.24 billion to supply four Gowind-class Corvettes to Egyptian forces.
“This deal opens doors because it is prompting enormous interest in the Gulf countries,” a French government source said.
A deal to develop the metro system in Cairo is also likely to be signed and the Egyptian delegation will meet top French business officials on the second day of the trip.
But the issue of human rights will not be left unspoken, stressed Paris. “We are aware of tensions, of journalists imprisoned and repression which goes well beyond the fight against terrorism,” said a French source.
Amnesty International France called on the French authorities not to sell weapons to Cairo because of human rights concerns.