France set to ink controversial jet sale to Egypt

France and Egypt are poised to sign a multi-billion-euro deal for the first foreign sale of the Rafale fighter jet despite human rights concerns.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was to travel to Cairo Monday to ink the 5.2-billion-euro ($5.9 billion) deal for 24 Rafale fighters that Paris hopes will prompt others to snap up its premier combat jet.

It comes as welcome news to cash-strapped France, which is even diverting three jets away from its own airforce for the delivery due later this year.

French President Francois Hollande said the agreement — clinched in only three months of negotiation — provided Cairo with "a quality aircraft" and was important for Egypt "taking into account the threats existing around the country."

With Libya wracked by instability to the west and the threat from Islamic State-linked militants to the east, Egypt plays a key role in providing stability in a troubled region, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday.

France is also hoping the deal will act as a catalyst to unblock hoped-for sales to other countries.

Eric Trappier, chief executive of Dassault Aviation, which manufactures the jet, said he was "very confident" that three years of exclusive talks with India on the sale of 126 Rafale jets worth 12 billion euros would soon result in a deal.

He said talks were slow as Delhi wanted some of the jets manufactured at home in a bid to boost manufacturing, meaning that every nut and bolt had to be discussed.

Paris is also eyeing possible deals with Qatar and Malaysia.

"It is probable that this will have a positive impact on other prospects… but we have to be cautious," Fabius told reporters on Sunday.

Attempts to sell the jet to countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Morocco, Switzerland and Brazil have seen the Rafale lose out to its foreign competitors.

– 'Alarming' rights abuses –

Despite the cheering in Paris, the agreed sale has sparked fury from some groups over perceived human rights abuses in Egypt.

Rights group Amnesty International attacked the decision to sell the 24 jets and a frigate to a nation it accused of "alarming" human rights abuses.

And others have criticised Paris of double standards by freezing its delivery of two Mistral-class warships to Russia over the Ukraine crisis but going ahead with the Egypt deal.

Current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was elected in May 2014 with 96.91 percent of the vote a year after toppling the country's first freely elected leader, Islamist Mohamed Morsi.

A subsequent crackdown on Morsi's supporters left at least 1,400 dead and thousands more in jail.

"Just because we are selling these Rafales to Egypt doesn't mean we agree with every point in their domestic policy," said Fabius.

"When there are excesses that are committed, we tell the Egyptian authorities — from our point of view — and we are hoping to move step by step towards more democracy."

"But the stability of Egypt is a very important point."

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