Egypt is all set to acquire 30 more Rafale multi-role fighter jets in order to bolster its airpower amid regional instability and mounting geopolitical tensions.
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The contract for the acquisition by Egypt of 30 additional Rafales to equip its air force came into force, Dassault Aviation has confirmed.
The finalization of the big-ticket acquisition follows an announcement made earlier this year (May 4, 2021). The latest acquisition will take the number of Dassault Rafales operated by the Egyptian Air Force to 54.
— Dassault Aviation (@Dassault_OnAir) November 15, 2021
Earlier, two dozen Rafales were procured as part of a contract signed in 2015.
After the French Air Force, the Egyptian Air Force is the second global airpower “to operate such a fleet of Rafales”. Needless to say, Dassault Aviation has remained a strategic partner of the Egyptian military establishment for almost half a century and the latest procurement further cements the ties between Cairo and Paris.
Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation, told reporters, “In a demanding geopolitical context, Egypt has chosen the Rafale to ensure its role as a key player in the regional and international arena, in full sovereignty. This is an honor for Dassault Aviation and its partners, who are fully committed to meeting the expectations of the Egyptian authorities.”
Human Rights Issue Played Down?
Al Jazeera had reported earlier this year that Egypt’s Rafale deal was valued at $4.5 billion. This valuation was based on data revealed by Disclose, an investigative journalism platform. The deal was condemned by leading human rights organizations over Cairo’s poor human rights record.
However, French President Emmanuel Macron stressed weapons sales would not be conditional on Cairo’s commitment towards human rights. Paris’ stated rationale was that it simply did not want to impede Cairo’s ability to deter hostilities in the region.
The deal is a big boost for Dassault, which had in January 2021 a $3.01 billion agreement with Greece for the sale of 18 Rafales jets. Both India and Qatar have also signed agreements with Paris for the procurement of the Rafale platform. These deals have made the Rafale jet a major success for Paris.
According to Al Jazeera, the Egyptian accord also reportedly covers contracts for missile manufacturer MBDA and equipment provider Safran Electronics & Defense which are worth another $241 million.
Al Jazeera reported that between 2013-2017 Paris was Cairo’s primary weapons supplier. This was the period that witnessed the sale of 24 fighter aircraft sold with the option to procure a dozen. After 2017, those contracts dried up; including deals, that had made considerable progress for more Rafale fighters and strategic naval assets.
Benedicte Jeannerod, director of the French chapter of Human Rights Watch, had vehemently opposed the weapons contract from the get-go.
“By signing a mega-arms contract with [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-] Sisi’s government while the latter presides over the worst repression in decades in Egypt, the eradication of the human rights community in the country and undertakes extremely serious violations under the pretext of the fight against terrorism, France is only encouraging this ruthless repression,” Jeannerod told the Reuters.
The political vacuum created in Libya combined with the regional instability and threat profile posed by non-state actors in Cairo led to forging closer military and economic relations with Paris. This was propelled since el-Sisi’s rise to power.
Macron had long been accused of feigning ignorance over a surge in human rights violations by the El-Sisi government. According to French officials, Paris is adhering to a policy of not being openly critical of countries over human rights. The rationale so as to be more effective in private on a case-by-case basis.
In addition to the human rights concerns, insiders believe that Cairo’s inability to pay back the state-guaranteed loans had prompted the contracts to dry up.
This seems to have undergone a change after El-Sisi took over as President. Paris and Cairo have since developed close bilateral ties. Both nations have mutual interests in the Middle East and shared skepticism towards Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. These diplomatic ties seem to translate into big-ticket procurements for Egypt.
Major Deals For Dassault
Qatar kicked off its air force modernization program in 2015. It signed a $6 billion contract with Dassault Aviation, for the procurement of 24 Rafale multi-role fighters. Twelve more were ordered in 2018, taking the tally to 36 Rafales. Furthermore, Qatar has the option of procuring 36 more Rafales.
In January 2021, Greece became the first European customer of the French Rafales when it signed a deal worth $2.8 billion to procure 18 fighter jets. Under the contract, Greece will procure 12 second-hand jets which will be taken out of the French Air Force inventory and 6 new ones to be delivered by the end of 2022.
Government spokesperson Christos Tarantilis told the press that the deal with France is part of a wider five-year plan to strengthen the Greek armed forces’ deterrence abilities, discreetly referring to rising threats from Turkey.
In May 2021, a delegation led by the Defense Attaché of the Indian Embassy in Prague, Colonel Anupam visited Greece and held talks on boosting bilateral defense relations between Athens and New Delhi.
India too is a customer of the Rafale, however, the contract has been mired in controversy. Prakash Nanda, consulting editor with The EurAsian Times recently wrote, “Many analysts admit that the whole Rafale controversy is more about politics than economics or technical capabilities of the aircraft, whether it is in India or in France.
“In India, the allegations that have been made are based on the reports of both ‘Shepra’ and Mediapart, which, in turn, are known for their “extreme Left lineage” in France. They have been active votaries against big business in general and the defense industry in particular.”
- Aritra Banerjee is a defense journalist who has worked in both online and print media. He has laid an emphasis on issues related to military human resources, tactical psychology, military-media relations, professional military education, and combat fitness. He can be reached on email: [email protected].
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