by: Amélia Fraisse
Gone are the days where French-Egyptian relations were struggling to keep up.
Following the French Foreign Affair Minister, Jean-Yves le Drian, attempts to warm up relations between the two countries, their bound are finally stronger than ever and the red carpet set up to welcome Abdel Fattah-al-Sissi, on the 6th of December, during the Covid-19 pandemic, is just another example of such permanent relations.
What outcome could be drown from the 3 days trip to France?
The presence of a president of a very large Arab and Muslim country – after an anti-French hate campaign in – is a boon to reconstruct the French image, in the Arab world.
The Egyptian President’s arrival in Europe comes as his regime is constantly singled out for its authoritarian abuses and human rights violations. As a symbol, or response to criticism, three days before his arrival in Paris, the Egyptian Marshal and President had three NGO officials released from jail. While some French diplomats took the credits for such act, in reality, it was more the unprecedented international mobilization, than the French diplomacy that allowed the release of the three officials.
Like an echo to their last conference in January 2019, the question of the hierarchy between religion and law was addressed during a courteous but firm exchange during the last minutes of the press conference.
Proving that lesson was learned, this time the discourse was more philosophical and diplomatic. Despite calling himself an advocate of social democratic openness and a dynamic social life, the President Macron did not hesitate – however – to put state sovereignty above all. As a justification to the multiple arrests in Egypt, the President Al-Sissi argued that the president is responsible for protecting over 100 million inhabitants against the terrorist fate and the arrests are of extremists and not human right defenders.
Even if the French media lingered on this philosophical exchange, other interesting questions were also addressed. During their press conference, the two homologues showed their convergence on several regional security issues: fight against terrorism, Libyan crisis, rivalries with Turkey, and displayed a common front against Ankara’s behavior. With the pursuit of common goals, it seems that now stability can be separated from the protection of human rights for the benefit of realpolitik.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, remained more diplomatic, praising the exceptional and friendly relationship between France and Egypt – the most populous country in the Arab world – considered by France as a pole of stability in an unstable region.
Egypt remains, above all, a commercial and geostrategic partner. Al-Sissi announced that the two sides had “agreed on the need to work together, to increase French direct investment in Egypt, especially to take advantage of development opportunities, particularly in infrastructure”. Their bilateral cooperation makes French the first arm exporter within Egypt – representing a gain of 20 billion euros to the Occidental country, in 2015. After billions of lost contracts in the last two years, new agreements will soon be signed following this visit. It would not be reckless to affirm that new arm contracts could be expected, whereas the French parliament is actually discussing of the creation of a parliamentary delegation for arms control.
Paris and Cairo finally understood that they could not do without each other geopolitically – especially in the Eastern Mediterranean region and within the African continent – and economically. As their may still be disagreements between the two countries, “it is more effective to have a demanding dialogue policy, than a boycott policy”, resumed the French President, Emmanuelle Macron.