CAIRO – 3 November 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s four-day visit to France which commenced from October 23 to 26, indicated Egypt’s pivotal role in the region and its eminence on the Arab and African levels.
Sisi’s visit also served in opening up new horizons of close strategic cooperation with present and prospective actors on both the European and international levels, including cooperation with the French Republic. Under Emmanuel Macron, the Republic is seeking to confront problems posing a threat to its national security, like the Libyan situation and countering terrorism, in addition to its goal of bolstering its role in the Mediterranean region and Africa.
Egyptian National Principles:
Different French media quickly stepped forward to hold interviews with Sisi upon his arrival to Paris. More than four interviews were conducted with him, as well as a joint press conference with French President Macron. Sisi emphasized Egyptian foreign policy principles, like the necessity of protecting the nation state, including the national army and the state apparatus and non-intervention. Sisi also discussed other principles such as;
Sisi emphasized that terrorism poses a threat to all countries of the world now, which is why the world needs to unite against it; because it is the real threat to humanity, stability and security of the entire world.
Sisi reiterated his call for reforming religious discourse in order to combat terrorism and promote core Islamic values of peace and tolerance. He further emphasized the necessity of holding certain countries accountable for funding terrorism, providing weapons for terrorists, training militants and giving media and political support to terrorist groups.
Egypt’s distinct nature:
Sisi pointed out that Egypt is a country with a rich and compelling history. In two years, Egyptians carried out two revolutions, overthrowing two presidents. Some 30 million Egyptians organized street protests in summer 2013, demanding that former President Mohammed Morsi steps down.
Egypt has well-established and solid institutions, which helped it survive through these revolutions. These revolutions were an expression of the people’s sovereign will, and the Egyptian national army only aspires to protect the people and the country regardless of any partisan considerations. All countries of the world must respect the distinct nature of other countries and their peoples, and follow a non-intervention policy.
Refusing reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood:
In important European countries like France, Germany and Britain, the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence is undeniable. In his interviews, Sisi was often asked about reconciling with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the importance of involving the organization in the Egyptian political scene again.
The president simply refused; citing that Egyptians’ outrage by the transgressions, murders and destruction committed by the group against them since January 2011 and to this day as the reason why. He emphasized that the Muslim Brotherhood exploited politics to rise to power. All terrorist groups (Hasm, Al-Qaeda, ISIL, Boko Haram) adopt the same mentality of murder and destruction, not only in the Arab world, but all around the world.
A comprehensive concept of human rights:
Some French human rights groups preceded Sisi’s visit to Paris by launching a massive campaign against Egypt, and citing systematic human rights violations. Sisi denied these claims, and asserted that human rights should not be limited to political rights only, but should include social and economic rights.
Sisi presented a newer, more realistic perspective on human rights, which only focuses on human political rights only, and uses them as a pretext for intervention. Sisi emphasized that Egypt aspires to stand up for human rights in the broader sense, like providing citizens with proper educational and health services.
Promoting the Palestinian cause:
The Palestinian cause is a high priority for Egyptian foreign policy. For the past four months, Egypt has endeavored to reconcile both Fatah and Hamas. It is still exerting great efforts to reach a final resolution, that is, the two-state solution, while also bringing peace and stability to the region.
The political solution in Syria:
The only way to overcome the Syrian crisis is through establishing a political settlement. Cairo, therefore, supports the French initiative to create a contact group involving the ‘main actors’ to aid in resolving the crisis. Neither Cairo nor Paris demand that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad steps down before beginning a free and fair political process of negotiation to settle the issue. The humanitarian suffering endured by Syrians as they confront terrorist groups must end in order to prevent the state from collapsing.
The Libyan situation:
Libyan stability is crucial for Egypt for two reasons pertaining to the region’s security and politics. First, in terms of security, the borders between Egypt and Libya extend for 1,200 kilometers into the desert. It is difficult for one country on its own to secure them. Therefore, Libya needs to fortify its security, with a powerful Libyan army in order for its borders to be secured. These unsecured borders helped terrorists cross to Egypt and carry out dozens of terrorist operations, the latest of which was the Giza-Wahat Operation.
In two years, Egypt destroyed 1,200 vehicles loaded with ammunition and carrying terrorists crossing over from Libyan borders into Egypt. Politics wise, there are historical ties between Egyptians and Libyans, thanks to the social and political relations between them. Therefore, Cairo supports the political agreement between the Libyan parties, because it is the basis for the settlement of the situation in the country. Sisi indicated that there is ongoing high-profile coordination between Cairo and Paris regarding the Libyan situation in order to bring stability to it, based on the Paris Declaration and the Skhirat Accords.
The Egyptian position towards the crisis has not changed. Doha must address the demands of the Arab Quartet. The most important of which include following a non-intervention policy and ceasing all forms of support for terrorism (political, media, economic or logistical). These demands are in agreement with international law and UN resolutions. However, Doha is intransigent and refuses to implement any of these demands.
For the first time since his election in June 2014, Sisi indicated Cairo’s desire to ease tension with Tehran. However, this depends on guaranteeing the security of Gulf countries, which are constantly being subjected to threats by Tehran. Egypt believes that the safety and security of Gulf countries is an integral constituent of its own safety and security.
Strategic Cooperation between Paris and Cairo:
This is Sisi’s third visit to France since he assumed presidency of Egypt. His first visit was in November 2014, when he met former President Francois Holland. His second visit took place in November 2015 when he traveled to attend the UN Climate Change Conference.
The latest visit was in response to an invitation by President Emmanuel Macron, and is particularly significant because it constitutes the beginning of a strategic cooperation between two countries that already share close historical ties. These two countries are currently cooperating on a high level to resolve a number of regional and international issues; that is in addition to the economic and military cooperation between the two countries which has substantially expanded, further strengthening this cooperation. All in all, the visit was significant on several levels:
On the regional level:
Sisi’s visit to France came at a time when important regional and international transformations were taking place in the Arab region; especially when several Arab states are transforming, such as Syria, Palestine, Libya and Iraq. ISIL’s defeat in Syria and Iraq poses a threat to Egyptian and French national security, as ISIL personnel will resort to Libya as a new station for themselves. In addition, the Palestinian cause is going through a turning point after signing the Egyptian-sponsored Palestinian reconciliation agreement.
Sisi held different meetings with many officials, decision-makers and actors in the French society. His meetings included those with President Emmanuel Macron, and other high-level officials such as those with the president of the National Assembly, president of the Senate, Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe, Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly, Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire. Sisi also convened with chairpersons of 25 major French corporates in order to discuss developing cooperation with them and the current steps taken as part of the economic reform program in Egypt with the goal of improving the investment climate in Egypt.
Today, Egypt and France are at the height of their political cooperation. Both countries adopt the same vision when it comes to a number of Middle Eastern situations, like handling the situations in Libya, and Syria, in addition to the Palestinian cause, countering terrorism and illegal immigration.
Egypt is considered Paris’ gate to the depths of Africa, and France will open the doors for Egypt to cooperate with French-speaking countries. Both countries agree that stability must be achieved in African horn countries, like Djibouti and Eritrea. French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian emphasized that Egypt is one of France’s most important strategic partners in the Middle East.
Economic and cultural cooperation:
France was the sixth largest investor in Egypt in 2016, with direct investments of €3.5 billion. Sisi praised French companies’ participation in all Egyptian development projects during the past three years. During the visit, 17 agreements, memoranda of understanding, and declarations of intent with the value of €400 million were signed in the fields of non-renewable and renewable energy, infrastructure, social protection, and different means of transportation. Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry and his French counterpart Jean Yves Le Drian signed a declaration promoting scientific, cultural and francophone cooperation between the two countries.
French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly received Sisi in the ministry and they discussed means of promoting military cooperation between the two countries. This is particularly important given that Egypt signed an arms agreement with France in 2015, with the value of €6 billion, which included 24 rafale fighter jet aircrafts, a frigate, a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship and missiles.
There were also talks of signing a new arms agreement for rafale fighter aircrafts, in addition to the possibility of Egypt purchasing a French military satellite to monitor Egyptian borders, especially the Western borders that Egypt shares with Libya. Military cooperation between the two countries helps them achieve shared goals, as it guarantees a variety of weapons for the Egyptian army and renders France as one of the major exporters of weaponry in the world. Paris sees Egypt as an important constituent for achieving regional stability and cooperates with it on such basis.
During his fourth year in office, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi continued to focus on boosting the country’s foreign policy by forming political and economic partnerships with major regional and world powers.
Sisi flew to 16 countries in 10 months, where he held high-level meetings with political leaders and participated in international forums with the aim of delivering a new image of Egypt to the world.
The president’s tours basically sought to attract foreign investment to the country, which is currently undergoing intensive economic reform measures with the aim to adjust the business climate for local and foreign companies.
This opinion article was originally published at .