France to Sell Helicopter Carriers to Egypt

The deal cements France’s growing role as the arms supplier of Western-allied Arab states.

The French helicopter carrier Mistral is seen in Toulon, May 5, 2009
The French helicopter carrier Mistral is seen in Toulon, May 5, 2009 (Wikimedia Commons/Rama)

France announced on Wednesday it would sell Egypt the two helicopter carriers it refused to deliver to Russia earlier this year.

The deal cements France’s growing role as the arms supplier of Western-allied Arab states.

In the last year, the European country has sold fighter jets, helicopters, satellites and warships to Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates worth $15 billion.

In February, Egypt became the first country in three decades to order Rafale fighter aircraft from Dassault — with the help of French financing.

The two Mistral helicopter carriers were originally slated to be sold to Russia for €1.2 billion. France suspended their delivery after Russia occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine last year, triggering the worst crisis in East-West relations since the end of the Cold War.

In May, Russia said it was no longer interested in acquiring the ships. A Defense Ministry official also said it could not accept the vessels being sold to a third nation, though. “This is a matter of state security,” he said.

The ships can carry up to sixteen helicopters and sixty armored vehicles each. France operates three of its own.

Since the military retook power in Egypt under Abdul Fatah Sisi in 2014, the country has played a more active role across the Arab world. Egyptian jets struck Islamists in neighboring Libya in February, a country that has been at civil war since Arab and NATO powers dethroned its dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011.

Egyptian forces have also joined a Saudi-led intervention in Yemen and Sisi has spoken of plans to form a joint Arab military force. Those ambitions appear to have gone nowhere yet.

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