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Egypt, France sign arms deal despites rights opposition

French president signs 1.24 billion dollar military deal with Egyptian, despite concerns over Sisi's 'alarming' record of human rights abuses
French President Francois Hollande (L) and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Paris on 26 November, 2014 (AA)

French President Francois Hollande has signed military cooperation deal with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Paris despite rights groups' opposition to the move because of Sisi's "alarming" record of human rights abuses.

The agreements on Wednesday included a €1 billion ($1.24 billion) contract to furnish four Gowind battleships to the Egyptian Navy and the renewal of Egypt’s stock of French-built Mirage 2000 fighter jets.

Amnesty International has previously called on France to suspend all transfers of arms to Egypt in view of the "alarming" human rights abuses being carried out in the country.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Sisi's security apparatus of carrying out the "systematic" murder of more than 1,000 supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected leader, who was ousted by the military in July 2013 after only one year in office.

In a report released in August after a year-long investigation, it concluded that the killings by Egyptian security forces probably constituted "crimes against humanity".

But Hollande told a joint press conference with Sisi after signing the arms agreements: "Egypt's economy needs the contribution of the international institutions and France will participate by collecting money and efforts to help."

'Neighbouring countries threatened'

He said an economic committee will meet in France next March to discuss ways of helping the struggling Egyptian economy.

Hollande added: "Egypt is in a war against terrorism in Sinai (north-east of Egypt) which imposes on everyone to work together to combat it, which could threaten the rest of the neighbouring countries."

Egypt's army said Wednesday that it had killed five "terrorists" and detained 19 others in recent raids conducted in the Sinai Peninsula.

Also on Wednesday, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said that the three policemen were killed in a drive-by shooting in the North Sinai city of Arish'.

Hollande vowed France would be "a partner" for Egypt in a number of areas and expressed his country's hope that "the process of democratic transition in Egypt will continue in accordance with the road map". 

He also revealed the pair had signed agreements on developing the Suez Canal, adding he would visit Egypt next year, without mentioning a specific date.

The Suez deal is worth around €700 million and includes a €300 million deal to refurbish of the subway system in Egypt's capital, Cairo.

French President Francois Hollande (R) and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi shake hands following press conference in Paris on 26 November, 2014 (AA)

Journalists 'punished'

Different human rights NGOs had also hoped Hollande would raise the plight of political opponents and journalists imprisoned by the Egyptian authorities, including Al-Jazeera journalists sentenced to several years in prison.

Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian national Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed have been imprisoned in Egypt for 333 days after being found guilty of aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which they continue to deny.

The journalists have repeatedly said that they are being punished for doing their jobs.

Sisi, who is on his first European tour since he took office earlier this year, also held discussions with Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and met Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

France is the second stop on Sisi’s European trip which started this week in Rome.