What were the real reasons behind Macron's visit to Egypt?

By Hisham AbuBakr Metwally
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French president Emmanuel Macron holds a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo on January 28, 2019. [Photo/VCG]

On January 27, French President Macron arrived in Egypt for his first visit since he took office in 2017. During Macron's three-day visit, he aimed to strengthen the strategic partnership with Egypt, which France considers an important country in the Middle East.

Macron was accompanied by five ministers and 24 academic, cultural and scientific personalities, as well as representatives from over 50 companies. What were the reasons behind Macron's visit to Egypt?

Economic cooperation with Egypt 

The French president wants to increase economic cooperation with Egypt, as the French economy has suffered a long-term trade deficit with Egypt. In 2017, the deficit reached US$89.5 billion.

On January 28, Sahar Nasr, Egyptian minister of investment and international cooperation, said Egypt and France had signed around 40 agreements worth a total of 1.6 billion euros.

Cairo is one of the largest importers of French weaponry, buying warships and fighter jets. Preliminary discussions for the sale of 12 additional Rafale fighter jets started two years ago and were discussed during this visit.

Secretary of State for the French Ministry of Economy said that, "France is one of the largest investors in Egypt, with a total investment of US$5 billion."

Egypt is the largest market for France in the region and the third largest in Africa after Nigeria and Ethiopia. 

The head of the Egyptian trade office in Paris said that Egypt's total export volume in 2016 was 492.6 million euros, and Egypt's imports from France were worth over 1.5 billion euros.

France contributed to the establishment of the first subway line in Egypt, but many countries have since become partners in building subsequent lines, so France would like to see itself resume a leading role in the construction of future subway lines.

Egypt was the biggest beneficiary of foreign investment in Africa in 2018, which made France to seek a greater stake in Egypt's mega-projects in the new administrative capital and other mega-projects.

The situation in Libya and how to confront illegal immigration

There is no doubt that the problem of the illegal immigration to EU countries continues to pose a dilemma to the EU. Italy recently criticized France as one of the important causes of Africa's poverty claiming it still exploited 14 African countries. Italy called on France to desist from its colonial practices and the exploitation of Africa's natural resources.

France therefore wishes to cooperate with Egypt to present a solution to the civil war in Libya and prevent migrants from using Libyan territory to cross into Europe. France also wants to intensify its cooperation with Egypt, as Egypt is the Chairman of the African Union this year, which gives an opportunity to cooperate on such issues as the fight against terrorism, security, poverty and other issues.

Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria and the stability of the Middle East  

France is deeply concerned about the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and believes that the decision opens the way for Iran and Hezbollah to dominate the region, especially Lebanon, which has strong ties with France.

France wants to discuss with Egypt the consequences of the U.S. withdrawal and how to confront the Iranian threat in the region.

Diverting attention away from protests

France relies heavily on tourism revenues. It has for years retained the world's number one tourist destination, with some 87 million tourists in 2017 earning revenue of about US$61 billion.

"Yellow vests" protesters confront police near the Arch of Triumph in Paris, France, on Dec. 8, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

The repeated demonstrations of yellow vests accompanied with violence and social unrest, have led to evacuations of tourist locations, and shop closure.

The French president visited Egypt to draw attention away from the ongoing demonstrations which may have a major negative impact on tourism in France over the coming year.

The French president's visit to Egypt may give the impression that the situation is fine and things are progressing normally. 

Macron chose the temple of Abu Simbel as the first place to visit, referring to the importance of tourism.

Hisham AbuBakr Metwally is the First Economist Researcher at the Central Department for Export & Import Policy under the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Industry.

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