CAIRO — In a visit to Egypt that concluded Jan. 29, French President Emmanuel Macron held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to discuss the political situation in both countries and ways to boost economic cooperation, as well as the regional situation in Libya and Syria. Macron’s first visit to Cairo since he took office mid-2017 coincided with the opening events of the France-Egypt Cultural Year, marking the 150th anniversary of the Suez Canal inauguration.
Egypt and France share historical ties in addition to military cooperation such as the Cleopatra naval drill. Since 2015, France has supplied Egypt with advanced weapons like Rafale aircrafts and Mistral aircraft carriers, which raised the ranking of the Egyptian army globally and boosted the economy. French investments in Egypt have reached $5 billion, according to the State Information Service report published Jan. 28, and trade between the two countries was worth $2.2 billion in 2018, according to Minister of Trade and Industry Amro Nassar.
During a joint press conference held Jan. 28, the second day of Macron’s visit, Sisi said that the two sides agreed to beef up trade and investment exchange between the two countries. He underlined the signing of an agreement worth 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion) to establish a strategic partnership with the French Development Agency from 2019 to 2023.
Macron indicated during the press conference that his visit to Egypt is a chance to bolster ties with an important partner in the region.
The Investment and International Cooperation Ministry organized the Investment Economic Forum in partnership with the French Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 28 during Macron’s visit. The two countries signed 32 agreements including cooperation protocols, memoranda of understanding and investment contracts in the fields of renewable energy, transportation, health, social protection, entrepreneurship, communication, small and medium-sized projects, car technology and women's empowerment. Eight other agreements brought the total 40 deals worth $1.6 billion.
Professor of political science at Cairo University Tarek Fahmi told Al-Monitor over the phone that Macron’s visit to Cairo also brought about an agreement on coordination between the African Union — over which Egypt will preside Feb. 10 — and the European Union. A partnership will also be built with the French Development Agency to offer soft loans and financial grants to Egypt. Fahmi said, “France and Egypt clearly agree on the security affairs in the region and want to counter terrorism and illegal migration, which Egypt is trying hard to deter.”
The two presidents discussed the situation in Libya and the Syrian crisis, in addition to the Palestinian cause and fighting terrorism. Macron said they saw eye to eye on several of these issues.
Yaman al-Hamaki, professor of economics at the University of Ain Shams in Cairo, told Al-Monitor over the phone that the agreements would contribute to increasing funding to Egypt as well as French investments, boosting Egyptian trade and the country's economy.
Hamaki added that Egypt is undergoing economic reforms and that they will lead to good cooperation with France in the fields of technology and renewable energy as well as tourism and interreligious dialogue.
Macron started his trip to Egypt by visiting Abu Simbel Temple in Aswan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the temple being saved from flooding by the Nile River. Atef Bakr Ajlan, a member of the Egyptian Travel Agents Association, said in press statements Jan. 28 that Macron’s visit is a clear message to urge French people to visit Egypt.
Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayeb welcomed Macron at the sheikhdom residence on the third day of his visit. Macron also met with Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark at St. Mark Cathedral, where he underlined that the diversity in Egypt and the region constitutes a key element for peace.
Macron and Sisi discussed the human rights situation in Egypt, and Macron called on Sisi to improve the country’s rights record by releasing some political activists. Sisi responded that Egypt and the region have their particularities and that Egypt's situation requires great effort.
Member of the National Council for Human Rights Hafez Abu Saada told Al-Monitor that Macron and Sisi did not clash over human rights and that the visit was good overall. He noted that the human rights situation stems from political, economic and social conditions that must be overcome for progress in that area to be made.
He said that there are indications that the state intends to put the controversial civil society law regulating the work of nongovernmental organizations back up for discussion after approving it and acquitting those accused of providing foreign funding to civil society organizations.
Fahmi said that the difference in opinion are unlikely to affect the results of the visit. The West always sees human rights from a political perspective, while Sisi addresses them from a wider perspective that includes political and social rights, he concluded.