Egypt’s arms deals: Turning a blind eye to human rights violations

Tuesday 25 January 202201:42 pm

A huge scandal was revealed two months ago related to leaked secret documents that prove the complicity of the French regime with Egyptian leader Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in crimes committed in Egypt in 2016. The French were complicit in carrying out aerial strikes against civilians, the French Armed Forces Minister was called for an investigation on 22nd of November 2021.

A secret joint military operation was conducted in Egypt, ostensibly to fight terrorism and track jihadist militants. They called it “Sirli”. France had its concerns regarding the influence of Islamic State fighters, which led to their involvement in conducting surveillance flights over Libya. One Egyptian officer accompanied the French intelligence team in listening to live eavesdropping of conversations. The French realized that the terrorist threat was minimal, and that the Egyptians intended to use the information to target smugglers instead.

It was a surprise turn of events when the Egyptian leader used the information gained to target and terminate smugglers and other civilians on the Libyan border. The leaked confidential documents showed that the misuse of the French information turned the mission into a campaign of arbitrary executions. French personnel on the ground sent many messages to their superiors warning them of the Egyptian misuse of the information obtained, which led to at least 19 bombings of civilians in the years from 2016 to 2018.

The French Armed Forces did not deny the validity of these documents and commented, “Egypt is a partner of France with which - as with many other countries - we maintain relations in the field of intelligence and the fight against terrorism”. They later added that they would not comment on the nature of the co-operation, but they would demand the launching of an investigation. On the other side, there was no official Egyptian response, except they blocked the access to Disclose’s website on all five providers of the internet services in Egypt. Disclose is a media that promotes investigative journalism.

Smuggling goods is a serious criminal activity but is no justification for this wanton killing of civilians. Anywhere else, alleged wrongdoers are given a fair trial, not bombed, or shot.

On July 5, 2017, one of these airstrikes killed three civilians in Bahriya oasis. An engineer with two co-workers were killed in his car with a missile and a hail of bullets on their way to work. There is no legitimate or righteous killing. The alleged activity of the victims is no justification for these atrocities.

French spyware technology

The failure of “Sirli” was no longer in doubt by the end of 2016. Despite the clear violations and crimes connected to this mission, France clearly showed its wish for continued cooperation, when Sylvie Goulard, then Armed Forces Minister, stated, “Macron is ready to study the possibility of increasing the use of reconnaissance airplanes.” She described the results of this operation as “exceptional.”

The arms deals, indeed, were very tempting for the French regime. Jean-Yves Le Drian, former President François Hollande’s Defence Minister, found good opportunity in Al-Sisi, who came to power by a military coup. Al-Sisi’s search for political legitimacy to reaffirm his power made him an easy prey for these arms deals. The French represented a western ally for him. The French Defence Minister completely ignored criticism by the French Foreign Ministry regarding the Egyptian arms deals.

The French government only cared for their own gain and the arms deals that the Egyptian regime showered them with, no matter how ugly it was for people in Egypt. According to the US State Department, there are about 65,000 opponents reported in Egypt’s jails, while 3,000 others have “disappeared” after being arrested since Al-Sisi came to power. Some of them are political opponents, journalists, NGO workers, among others who defend human rights or do not live according to the military regime's precepts.

France turned a blind eye to the clamp down on Egyptian citizens, blessing a deal by three major French companies for the sale and installation of massive spyware technology Al-Sisi ordered in 2014, facilitating unprecedented repression of Egyptians.

If you are an activist of any kind, that means your phone will be tracked, bugged, monitored, or eavesdropped and your social network activity will be monitored and recorded. This is something I tested myself as an Egyptian political and human rights activist through and after the Egyptian revolution and until now. However, the Egyptian regime still thinks they need more control over people, although no one can escape them. You risk your life daily, if you do not profess loyalty to the regime or if you have different thoughts.

France ignored the clamp down on Egyptians by blessing a deal by three French companies for the sale and installation of a massive spyware technology Al-Sisi ordered in 2014. They also trained Egyptian intelligence officers to use the system to collect mass information from the telecommunications network in Egypt. 

Nexa Technologies installed an internet surveillance software called Cerebro, Ercom-Suneris installed Cortex vortex for phone tapping and geolocation, while the French arms giant Dassault Systèmes provided the Egyptian regime with software that can search, access information, and connect it with the Egyptian national database. The total contracts of the first two companies were €26.4 million in 2014. The massive spyware technology facilitated an unprecedented repression of Egyptian civil society since then.

The United Arab Emirates played middleman in this deal of digital espionage. The management of Nexa Technologies confirmed, “The order from the Egyptian government came to us through an Emirati company that contacted us and told us about the requirements.”

The UAE played middle man in a deal of digital espionage to eavesdrop on Egyptians. The management of Nexa Technologies confirmed, “The order from the Egyptian government came through an Emirati company that contacted us and gave us the requirements.”

The French judiciary charged Nexa Technology last October of “Complicity in torture and enforced disappearances in Egypt between 2014 and 2021.” However, this is not enough. The French presidents François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron and their governments should be prosecuted for their involvement in human rights violations in Egypt as accomplices to crimes committed by the Egyptian regime.

Arms deals: An excuse for ignoring human rights violations

France still provides Al-Sisi with diplomatic and military support. Nonetheless, the French regime was not the sole beneficiary of selling arms to Egypt. On 9 November 2021, many peace and human rights organizations charged the Dutch State over arms export to Egypt’s navy. Last year, Netherlands approved many arms export licenses to Egypt despite reports about the human rights situation there. Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted: “The government of the Netherlands will have to answer in court why it is selling arms to Egypt despite President Al-Sisi overseeing the worst repression in the country's modern history.”

In February 2021, Biden’s administration approved a $200 million sale of missiles to Egypt. Donald Trump described Al-Sisi as “My favourite dictator”, which forced Biden to vow a tougher stance on human rights. It is unfortunate, however, that this vow has not been fully met. The proposed sale comes amid serious concerns regarding the Egyptian human rights record, which according to the State Department's 2019 report included many violations and abuses, such as: “Unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, and the existence of unenforced criminal libel.”

In Germany, Former Chancellor Angela Merkel's government approved arms deal to Egypt just before she left office. The green light to this controversial arms deal raised concerns and anger from some German politicians because of the poor Egyptian human rights record and its involvement in Yemen's civil war. About €3 billion of German export licenses for arms in 2020 was to so-called “Third countries” outside of NATO and the European Union. Many promises have been made by the new German government to implement a “Restrictive weapons export policy.” However, it is still unknown if they will keep their promises.

After the torture and murder of Giulio Regeni, the Italian student who disappeared in Egypt in 2016, it seems unbelievable that Italy has carried on with the Egyptian arms deals in 2020. As a result, Egypt received 25 of 50 missiles as a part of an arms deal with Italy. The missile deal was a part of a bigger agreement to sell two Bergamini-class frigates.

Italian human rights activists and parliamentarians were very angry and tried to stop the deal, while Regeni's parents commented about this deal, “The Italian State has betrayed us.” It seems selling military arsenal to an autocrat who allows the murder of one of your citizens could be much important than human rights. Strong relations with Egypt, despite the Italian domestic pressure, is seriously significant to Italy in order to preserve an active role in the eastern Mediterranean and the region. Italy is a co-founder of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum and almost half of the Egyptian petroleum wealth is produced by the Italian-government-owned ENI.

Human rights are the biggest scam made by politicians all over the world. It is much easier to look the other way than to lose one of the world’s top arms importers, according to Spiri.org, Egypt was ranked as the third-largest arms importer for 2016-2020. For the past nine years, Egyptians who are not on their regime's side have suffered a lot. They have not even been considered as humans and they have no rights. However, a military regime that controls the country by the force of arms is always doomed to failure eventually. Western leaders and politicians should focus on not losing sight of the moral purpose that drives each of us to be human. This is how they can be on the right side in history.

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