Egypt bought two warships from France, in the second arms transaction with the European country this year.
The warships are Mistral helicopter carriers, which cost Egypt 950 million euros, the French Elysee presidential site reported on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande spoke to his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi about the details of the acquisition and the command of the two warships, the Elysee reported.
Addressing reporters on Wednesday, Hollande said, “Yesterday, I agreed the price and conditions of the sale with President Sisi, and so France will ensure the delivery of these ships without losing anything, while helping to protect Egypt,” Reuters reported.
Initially intended for sale to Russia, the transaction was halted following the latter’s seizing of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014. Citing sources close to French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French newspaper Liberation said that Egypt considered the cost of the warships to be high, while France was trying not to lose any money, as it was shifting the sale of the ships from Russia to Egypt.
The state-owned Al-Akhbar newspaper confirmed that Saudi Arabia is supporting Egypt in the acquisition of the jets, which was also alluded to in August, when Hollande visited for the inauguration of the Suez Canal bypass. Back then, French diplomats told the French Le Monde that Saudi Arabia is ready to do anything to buy the Mistral, as part of Saudi King Salman’s quest to support a strong maritime regional military presence, both in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
Al-Akhbar cited Mokhtar Qandeel, a military expert, who asserted Saudi Arabia has a vested interest in supporting this transaction, in order to facilitate Egypt’s role in the war on Yemen’s Houthis rebellion.
Egypt’s involvement in the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen has been controversial, with local officials insisting that only maritime forces are taking part in the war, while Saudi Arabia has been reportedly pressuring for more.
But beyond the positioning of Egypt in regional power dynamics through Saudi interventions, the transaction is also desired locally.
Liberation cites analysts asserting that Egypt has not made any major changes to its maritime forces in 15 years, which explains the acquisition.
With current security challenges, the transaction seems somewhat analytically justifiable. Admiral Coldefy, the director of military journal Defense Nationale, told Liberation that the Mistral, in use by France during the intervention in Libya in 2011, protects the border area between the two counties. This area has witnessed notable militant activity recently, with Egypt declaring military operations to free the Western Desert of terrorist groups.
Qandeel, cited in Al-Akhbar, also said that the Mistral would be useful for Egypt’s war against militants in North Sinai, as it would serve as an important maritime base in the Mediterranean Sea near the Rafah border town, which is currently undergoing a major military operation against terrorism.
Military sources told well-known French defense blogger Secret Defense that Egypt wanted one of the warships to be stationed in the Mediterranean Sea, while the second would be in the Red Sea.
Meanwhile, Coldefy reiterated that for the deal to be successful, Egypt would need to spend more money on training, in order to optimize the use of the warships.
The Mistral transaction marks the second significant arms transaction between Egypt and France. Earlier this year, Egypt bought 24 Rafale warplanes, aimed at developing its security and playing its role in regional stability, according to the Elysee. The transaction, which marks the first export of the French Rafale fighter jets cost Egypt 5.2 billion euros, facilitated through a French loan.
In June, Egypt also received a FREMM frigate from France that it renamed “Tahya Masr” (Long Live Egypt).
Last year, Egypt also bought four Gowind warships from Thales, a defense manufacturer that is partially owned by the French state.
The resort to France is largely seen as an attempt by Egypt to diversify its sources of arms suppliers, in order to challenge the dominance of the US in this area.
Following Sisi’s takeover of power from former President Mohamed Morsi, the US placed a temporary hold on US arms supplies to Egypt, under pressure from American lawmakers.