President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi paid a two-day visit to France last week to attend the One Ocean Summit in the port city of Brest, and hold a meeting with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
Al-Sisi told Macron that Egypt attaches particular importance to cooperation with France, especially in transferring French technology and expertise to Egypt, and that Egypt is keen to consult with France on issues of security and stability in the East Mediterranean and Africa, according to presidential spokesperson Bassam Radi.
“France in general, and President Macron, in particular, see Egypt under President Al-Sisi as having a huge influence in the Arab world, Africa, the Middle East and East Mediterranean, and that reinforcing relations helps serve French national interests,” Alaa Youssef, Egypt’s ambassador to France, told the Middle East News Agency (MENA). He added that Al-Sisi’s regular visits to France, and his close personal relationship with President Macron, had led to “a qualitative leap” in relations between Cairo and Paris.
After receiving Al-Sisi on 11 February, Macron said France was seeking greater momentum in its bilateral relations with Egypt.
“We are committed to helping Egypt fight terrorism and extremist agendas, and achieve comprehensive development,” said Macron.
The meeting tackled a host of regional issues. “President Macron expressed appreciation for Egypt’s efforts to preserve Libya’s national institutions and pave the way to a peaceful settlement among rival Libyan factions,” said Radi. “It was agreed that joint efforts between the two sides would be exerted to help Libya restore security and stability, especially through the exit of mercenary and foreign forces from Libyan land.”
Radi indicated that the summit also covered cooperation and coordination between Egypt and France ahead of Egypt’s hosting of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in November in Sharm El-Sheikh.
President Al-Sisi said his decision to accept President Macron’s invitation to participate in the One Ocean Summit reflected Egypt’s keenness to cooperate with France and the importance Egypt gives to protecting the marine environment, preserving biological diversity and fighting marine pollution.
Addressing the One Ocean Summit on 11 February, Al-Sisi said that climate change is the most difficult challenge facing the world and that international efforts to protect the oceans from its impact needed to be stepped up.
Egypt, said Al-Sisi, has made significant steps towards becoming a hub for renewable energy and reducing marine transport sector emissions.
As chair of the conference of the UN Parties Agreement on Biological Diversity, Egypt has called for new environmental targets, including protection of the marine environment.
The world’s seas and oceans have absorbed 90 per cent of the heat generated by global warming since the 1970s, increasing acidity and reducing oxygen levels which has had a devastating impact on marine life.
Al-Sisi said Egypt, as chair of COP27, will engage in constructive dialogue on protecting the seas and oceans, and that Cairo was committed to the goals of both the Global Ocean Alliance and the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People.
President Al-Sisi held talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, and Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Bouden on the sidelines of the One Ocean Summit.
Political analysts in Egypt say the regularity of meetings between Al-Sisi and Macron reflect the depth of the alliance between Cairo and Paris.
“There is now significant foreign policy and economic coordination between the two,” says Tarek Abdel-Hadi, a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. “The most significant development in relations between Egypt and France has been in the areas of security, intelligence, and military cooperation.”
A study released by the US Carnegie for International Peace Institute last month said the alliance between Egypt and France “is based on a complex set of financial interests, parallel foreign policy objectives, and ideological affinities”.
Shared financial interests, according to the study, include massive arms deals between Cairo and Paris. Between 2016 and 2020 French arms sales to Egypt increased by 44 per cent, compared to 2011-2015. Egypt is the second largest customer of French arms after India, with military purchases focused on Rafale jets and advanced electronic surveillance systems.
The report also revealed that France is investing 4.6 billion euros in Egyptian infrastructure projects, including 800 million euros in government loans, one billion euros from the French Development Agency, and two billion euros in bank loans guaranteed by the French state.
Trade between Egypt and France reached $3 billion in 2020, a 20 per cent increase since 2019. There are 160 French companies operating in Egypt, employing 40,000 workers and investing around 5 billion euros.
The Carnegie report also argued that the political crisis in Libya helped cement the alliance between Cairo and Paris, with both countries calling for the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Libya.
The report also referred to Al-Sisi’s and Macron’s shared opposition to political Islam.
“When Turkey called for boycotting French products, Egypt took the side of France, rebutting Turkey’s call as having nothing to do with Islam,” said the report. As a result, Macron decided in October 2020 to decorate Al-Sisi with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour during a state visit to Paris in appreciation of his role in supporting French-Egyptian relations.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.