Defence expo reflects Egypt’s armament strategies

Cairo’s goal is to turn military industrialisation into a new national revenue stream.
Sunday 25/11/2018
 New strategies. Egyptian tanks take part in the Arab Shield military exercises in the Matrouh Governorate Mohamed Naguib military base, on November 15. (AFP)
New strategies. Egyptian tanks take part in the Arab Shield military exercises in the Matrouh Governorate Mohamed Naguib military base, on November 15. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egypt will organise its first-ever defence exhibition on December 3.

The first of its kind in north and central Africa, the exhibition will give hundreds of arms manufacturers from around the world the opportunity to share ideas, discuss industry developments, conduct business, develop partnerships and network for future cooperation.

About 316 defence manufacturers from 41 countries are set to participate in the expo. Nineteen countries will also host special booths at the event, which will be held at a major fairground on the outskirts of Cairo.

The expo, analysts said, underscores Cairo’s desire to promote itself as a rising arms manufacturer in the Arab and African regions.

“This is a very good opportunity for Egypt to showcase its defence products,” said Mahmoud Khalaf, a lecturer at Nasser Military Academy, the academic arm of the Egyptian military. “The exhibition comes at a time Egypt looks forward to enhancing its defence manufacturing and also expanding its partnerships.”

Egypt started manufacturing arms at a small scale in the 1960s. Cairo has expanded this industry over the past few years, manufacturing a wide range of military equipment, including some under licences from major international firms.

In September, an army-affiliated shipyard in the northern coastal city of Alexandria launched the first domestically made Gowind corvette warship under licence from France’s Naval Group.

This was the latest defence equipment Egypt has sought to produce as it looks to become increasingly self-reliant in terms of arms supplies, particularly ammunition.

Defence products made at dozens of factories within the army-owned Arab Organisation for Industrialisation include small calibre and heavy ammunition, mortars, mines, grenades and other explosives.

The products made also include antitank rockets, rocket mortars, radars, rifles, pistols, smoke and pyrotechnic devices, machine guns, training aircraft, armoured vehicles and armoured personnel carriers.

Cairo’s goal is to turn military industrialisation into a new national revenue stream.

The Ministry of Military Production is at the heart of this pursuit. On November 12, Military Production Minister Mohamed al-Assar said the forthcoming exhibition, officially called Egypt Defence Exhibition (EDEX), would give Egypt an important opportunity to showcase its defence products. EDEX bills itself as Egypt’s first tri-service defence expo, covering air, land and sea.

“It will also give other Arab states the chance to showcase the products they manufacture,” al-Assar said.

The Arab Organisation for Industrialisation’s factories and showrooms are turning into an important stop in the itinerary of most African officials visiting Cairo.

Al-Assar, a former member of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has met with dozens of foreign officials and diplomats in his bid to expand joint military production with other countries.

Egypt spends billions of dollars on arms and defence equipment every year, with that figure believed to have increased significantly since 2014 when Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi came to power with a plan to modernise and reform the country’s armed forces. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Egypt’s total international arms transfers averaged $751 million per year between 1990 and 2013 and $1.475 billion since 2014, putting Egypt among the top five defence importers worldwide.

Recent military deals have included dozens of fighter jets from France and Russia, two helicopter carriers from France, two submarines from Germany and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of rockets from the United States.

The head of the Egyptian Armament Authority, Tarek Saad Zaghlol, said he expected huge deals and partnerships to be hammered out during EDEX.

“Egypt is diversifying its arms supplies and looks forward to signing a variety of arms contracts with different arms suppliers at the expo,” he said.

Egypt’s need to diversify arms supplies intensified following the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in a military-backed popular uprising in mid-2013.

The United States, one of Egypt’s main arms suppliers, viewed Morsi’s ouster negatively and withheld military aid to Egypt at a time when it faced the persistent threat of Islamist militancy in the Sinai Peninsula and other parts of Egypt.

Militants affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS), some hiding in mountainous areas in central Sinai, staged deadly attacks against army troops and policemen, increasing the human cost of Egypt’s battle against terrorism.

To make up for the loss of US arms, Egypt’s military strategists had to look for other suppliers, including European countries, Russia and China.

Analysts said such diversification has given Egypt greater control over its future military strategies.

“This diversification is crucial if we will ensure an uninterrupted supply of the arms we need at all times,” said retired army General Hossam Suweillam. “It also prevents suppliers from imposing their political or military will on us.”