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Wednesday, 25 October 2017

El Sisi and Macron’s meeting

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s first meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron apparently went very well, with both leaders alluding to stronger security and economic ties in the offing. Key highlights of their meeting in Paris included:

Macron comes to El Sisi’s defense on human rights: Despite pressure from rights groups to address Egypt’s human rights violations, Macron came to El Sisi’s defense on the issue, telling reporters that Egypt’s current security context must be taken into account when considering the human rights question. He went one step further to label the issue a “sovereign affair” in which France and other Western countries shouldn’t meddle.

More defense cooperation: Terrorism and security cooperation were at the head of the talks. Macron pledged to increase support for Egypt defense, but shied away from specifics. This came as Reuters reported that French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire confirmed to Europe 1 radio channel that the two leaders would be discussing the sale of 12 additional Rafale aircraft to Egypt, as Le Tribune had hinted on Monday.

Expect announcements on economic agreements worth some EUR 400 mn, primarily on land and maritime transport as well as the Cairo Metro, El Sisi said. Tourism was also discussed, with El Sisi announcing that 2019 will a year of “joint tourism cooperation.” The Suez Canal was also a part of the talks, as both countries plan to hold celebrations marking its 150th anniversary, according to Macron.

A French business delegation will be in Egypt soon, Macron said, adding that the French Development Agency will continue to the support the economic reform program. Earlier in the day, El Sisi had sat down with top executives from 40 major French companies who are all reportedly eager to invest in Egypt, Egypt’s French Chambers of Commerce head Hossam Benham said, according to Ahram Gate.

Other items on the agenda included Macron declaring support for an “inclusive political solution in Syria,” which could signal a shift away from demanding Bashar Al Assad’s removal. He also said he supports the UN’s roadmap for Libya.

You can catch the full press conference here (runtime: 25:52).

Regional politics were also the order of the day during the president’s meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The officials agreed to step up cooperation on counterterrorism and stemming illegal immigration to Europe.

El Sisi also met with French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe yesterday, telling him that Egypt is primarily interested in France’s expertise in energy, transport, education, and training. French investments in Egypt currently stand at around EUR 4 bn, according to an Ittihadiya statement.

The meeting between both leaders follows a sit down between El Sisi and Naval Group Chairman and CEO Hervé Guillou, where discussions focused on enhancing Egypt’s naval arsenal. Guillou said his group was keen on discussing future cooperation with Egypt, according to a statement from Ittihadiya (pdf).

El Sisi also talked modernizing Egypt’s railways with Guillaume Pepy, chairman of French state-owned railway company SNCF. Egyptian National Railways expects to sign an agreement soon with SNCF on training, technical support, railway security and safety, as well as maintaining and constructing new lines. The meeting comes as Transport Minister Hisham Arafat, who accompanied El Sisi, sat down with a number of French companies to entice them to take part in revamping the railway network, Al Mal reports.

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