The current exceptional stage in Egyptian-French relations offers an opportunity to advance ties between the two countries to the level of a new "qualitative alliance". The objective is entrenching stability and security in the Mediterranean in the face of common regional challenges and similar internal battles the two countries are involved in vis-a-vis opposing parties in the region. Thus, this alliance is characterised with a special nature, reflected in President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi's visit to France 6 December, which was unprecedented in timing, form and content.
Egyptian-French relations have great significance due to the two countries’ regional, political and civilisational weight, and the nature of interests shared by both in the light of challenges regarding terrorism and other Mediterranean matters, especially Turkish intervention in the Eastern Mediterranean and crises facing countries such as Libya, Syria and Lebanon, as well as immigration, organised crime and the Palestinian cause.
Regarding the terrorism issue, Egypt kept suffering for decades from extremist groups’ terrorism and kept alerting countries providing a safe haven to extremism about its dangers. Such Egyptian alarms increased after 2013. When terrorism struck badly and heavily in France’s heart in 2020, Paris adopted a security standpoint more in tune with the Egyptian stance on the terrorism issue, distinguishing it from human rights issues, which had dominated French discourse towards Arab countries and the Mediterranean frame. France became one of the European countries most interested in the Egyptian point of view.
A new bill discussed recently by the French cabinet — including “enhancing the supervision of religious societies and their funding and criminalising hatred via internet” as well as measures to combat extremism by closing 400 societies, mosque and sports halls and different sites — is but an indicator of the impact of terrorism on French national security. Hence, the two countries’ views have converged regarding the characteristics and essence of the battle in the heart of the Arab world and Europe; namely, the confrontation between “nationalism” and “fundamentalisms”.
All this points to the necessity of cooperation between the two countries on this issue, which won’t reverberate only in the security sphere, but will also contribute to deepening military cooperation and bringing intellectual and strategic visions more closely into line. In this specific context, Egyptian-French relations constitute a regional centre of gravity, anticipating changes that might take place on the international arena towards this issue. Egypt needs to widen the distinction between necessities of combating terrorism and human rights principles, within in the European frame and the Western frame as a whole, and France can help Egypt in this regard. France needs Egypt with regard to its security expertise in combating terrorism, to help the French interior and in kareas that France dedicates more attention to in Africa.
No indicator on the compatibility in the two countries’ policies during the last two years has been more clear than their stance towards the Turkish issue represented in Turkish antagonistic policies in Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean. Cairo and Paris both hold a similar vision towards Ankara as the prime supporter of extremist forces through vision, facilities, financial and media backing and illegal intervention from the highest level, represented in the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, himself.
All this has reinforced compatible Egyptian and French policies and convergent interests, and has even transcended them, reaching the “red lines” delineated by both countries towards Turkey. These “red lines” are connected to challenges and dangers originating from Turkey on the national security of both countries. All this has led, as presidential spokesman Bassam Rady pointed out, during the visit of El-Sisi to France, to “big spheres of mutual understanding between the two countries that amount to having identical stances regarding the refusal of foreign intervention and refusal of dealing with militias and the transfer of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria to Libya, as well as the equitable and transparent division of all wealth [in Libya]”.
Concerning the Mediterranean and Libyan issues, France needs Egypt as much as Egypt needs France, especially in light of changes in the Italian and German positions towards Turkey, or Turkish unclear stances towards some Southern Mediterranean countries, with probabilities of developments in Turkish military intervention in Libya or probabilities of a military clash – even by mistake – with Ankara in the Eastern Mediterranean. In this context, the significance of the Egyptian-French alliance is boosted by probabilities of a Russian retreat from confronting Turkey within the frame of regional disputes, as it has been witnessed in Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh.
There remains one main issue for both countries; namely, the Palestinian cause. Each has historical commitments towards the Palestinian people in spite of transformations occurring in the Arab region. French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that ongoing efforts are being made in order to develop an alternative to what is called the “Deal of the Century”. He reiterated his refusal of Israel's annexation plans, and his support for the two-state solution, which was welcomed by the Palestinian Authority who considered it a “perception from the world that the deal aims to liquidate the Palestinian cause”.
If US President Donald Trump’s administration has gone to great lengths to ignore Palestinians rights, both Egypt and France — driven by new Arab stances and supported by an announced stance of the Biden administration towards the Palestinian cause — can correct the course through searching for a joint vision that combines the main historical logics of Palestinian rights, and efforts exerted in order to reach a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Finally, the current exceptional stage in Egyptian-French relations remains in need of a strategic vision based on intellectual, cultural and historical commonalities reflected in their noticeable compatibility on regional issues of mutual concern.