Egypt, Under Fire, Gets German Mediation Offer and French Cash

  • Hollande and Gabriel raise human rights issue with El-Sisi
  • French companies sign new deals valued at over EU1.4 billion

Egypt signed business deals worth more than 1.4 billion euros ($1.6 billion) with French companies and received a German offer to mediate with creditors, but didn’t escape rebukes over its human rights record.

The deals and offers were extended by French President Francois Hollande and German Energy and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel during simultaneous visits to Egypt, which is struggling to lure investors to help revive its flagging economy. Net foreign reserves are tenuously holding at about $16 billion, while a dollar crunch is hammering businesses and threatening to drive up prices in the impoverished nation.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is facing unprecedented criticism three years after he led the widely-sought ouster of predecessor Mohamed Mursi and the subsequent crackdown on his Islamist allies. Dissatisfaction with the failure of his economic policies to improve the lot of the Egyptian people is widespread, and thousands took to the streets on Saturday to protest his decision to return two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in the harshest popular outpouring against him to date.

Egyptian officials have largely downplayed criticism over the crackdown on Islamists and other critics. Hollande and Gabriel put human rights issues front and center.

Conditions Attached

The German economy minister on Sunday extended his nation’s offer to mediate for Egypt in talks with the International Monetary Fund, the Paris Club and the European Union. But he urged El-Sisi to embrace economic reforms as a condition for financial help and raised before the president Egypt’s “worrying” human rights situation. He urged German companies to address human rights issues in contacts with Egyptian counterparts, and on Monday said Egypt must recognize that terrorism and peaceful protest are not the same.

Hollande, in a joint press conference with El-Sisi, told his host that combating militancy was not a justification for violating human rights. The French leader also brought up the death in Egypt of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, which prompted Italy to recall its ambassador. Italian and Egyptian media have raised suspicions that Regeni was killed by Egyptian security forces, a claim officials in Egypt deny.

During the visit, France’s Vinci Construction Grands Projets and Boygues’ Travaux Public unit said Monday they had won an additional 1.1 billion euro contract for the Cairo metro project. Earlier the two nations signed agreements and a letter of intent valued at 308 million euros.

While Egypt hasn’t issued calls for help in mediating with the IMF or others, German support could be significant. Egyptian officials are returning from the spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank in Washington with no announcement of an attempt to seek an IMF deal. German trade with Egypt grew 20 percent last year to about 5 billion euros.

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