France on Wednesday urged Egypt to continue its path towards democracy, as visiting president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sought to restore his country's reputation with his first European tour after a deadly crackdown on opponents.
“We want the process to continue, a process of democratic transition which respects the roadmap and allows Egypt to succeed fully,” said French President Francois Hollande at a joint news conference after talks with Sisi.
Hollande called for a “clear” relationship between Paris and Cairo after talks that focused on the fight against Islamic extremists as well as several bilateral business deals.
“We have to act together to fight against terrorism,” stressed Hollande.
Sisi arrived from Italy, where he was hailed as a “strategic partner” of Rome and Europe, in the latest sign of Cairo’s international rehabilitation.
This is partly due to shared problems and enemies, notably the lawlessness in Libya and the challenge posed by the Islamic State group’s deadly insurgency across Syria and Iraq.
Sisi hopes to coordinate an international response to fighting in Libya between government-backed troops and Islamist militias.
Hollande has described Libya’s descent into chaos after the 2011 overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi as his “major concern”, sounding the alarm over what Paris has termed a “terrorist hub”.
The Egyptians “have the feeling that they weren’t heard in 2011 when they warned of the dangers of a Western intervention. They hope to be heard today,” said a French government source.
“They believe we need to re-intervene in Libya but we doubt that this crisis can be solved purely by force,” added the source.
Sisi called for the international community to “support the institutions, the authorities and the national army” in Libya.
Meanwhile, Hollande vowed to “do everything to ensure that the rule of law is re-established and prevent terrorism becoming entrenched in the south that threatens the whole region.”
‘YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR’
Hollande and Sisi also talked business, with France hoping to sell Mirage 2000 combat jets to the Egyptian military.
French shipbuilder DCNS has already signed a contract estimated at one billion euros ($1.24 billion) to supply four Gowind-class corvettes to Egyptian forces.
“This deal opens doors because it is prompting enormous interest in the Gulf countries,” a French government source said.
The pair also inked a multi-million-euro deal to develop the metro system in Cairo and the Egyptian delegation will meet top French business officials on the second day of the trip.
Amnesty International France called on the French authorities not to sell weapons to Cairo because of human rights concerns.
Ahead of the talks, a French source stressed that the issue of human rights would not be ignored. “We are aware of tensions, of journalists imprisoned and repression which goes well beyond the fight against terrorism.”
As Sisi left for a meeting with the head of France’s parliament, a handful of protesters attempted to unfurl a banner reading: “No to the murderer’s visit” before being moved on by police.
The Egyptian leader also launched an appeal to French tourists to visit the country, with tourism numbers down since Sisi’s overthrow of his elected Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi and deadly crackdown on opponents.
“You’ve nothing to fear,” he emphasised.
“As soon as we issue a visa, we commit to protect them. Tourists are welcome in Egypt,” said Sisi.