Egypt’s new Rafale deal raises human rights criticism

The Egyptian military has confirmed it ordered 30 Rafale jets from French defence firm Dassault Aviation to shore up “national security.” The new deal has been condemned by rights advocates, including the French wife of a jailed activist.

The new deal will build up Egypt’s fleet of the advanced warplane to 54, second only to the French air force. Both countries have confirmed it separately. Investigative site Disclose reported on Monday that the order was part of a secret mega-defence deal worth almost 4 billion euros ($4.8 billion).

Human rights defenders see the new deal as a confirmation of France’s policy of not conditioning its economic and defence cooperation with Egypt on progress on human rights. At a joint press conference with Sisi in Paris in December, Macron said: “I will not condition defence and economic cooperation matters on these disagreements (over human rights).”

French Defence Minister Florence Parly said in a statement that the new Rafale deal “reinforces the strategic and military partnership between France and Egypt.” She added: “This contract illustrates the strategic nature of the partnership that France maintains with Egypt, while our two countries are firmly committed to the fight against terrorism and are working for stability in their regional environment.”

Wife of jailed Palestinian-Egyptian activist Ramy Shaath said France should be using the sale as leverage to pressure Egypt into improving human rights and releasing prisoners. Celine Lebrun-Shaath told The Associated Press: “It’s never too late. The planes have not been delivered yet. The strategic partnership between France and Egypt is important but should be based on shared values and the respect of international law.” “One of the implications of France’s failed diplomacy is my husband’s continued unjust imprisonment for 670 days,” she added. Shaath, the son of the former Palestinian foreign minister, was detained in 2019 but has not been charged, and his wife, a French citizen, was deported.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Egypt is the world’s third-biggest arms importer after Saudi Arabia and India. Its arms purchases grew by 136 per cent over the last decade. It has diversified its sourcing beyond the United States, buying military equipment from France, Germany, and Russia, the institute said in a report released earlier this year.

The huge military spending coincides with major financial crises the country is facing. The volume of spending also contradicts Sisi’s repeated assertions that he is running a poor country that cannot develop essential facilities.