Hollande talks business on second day of visit to Egypt

Sunday 17/04/2016
Key trade partner for France

CAIRO - French President Francois Hollande discussed economic and cultural ties in Egypt Monday, a day after he arrived to a lavish welcome quickly overshadowed by his host's controversial human rights record.

Hollande, who is visiting Cairo as part of a regional tour, attended a business forum with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with both countries hoping to boost trade and investments.

Allegations of human rights abuses under Sisi's government dominated a joint news conference on Sunday, with Hollande insisting that respecting rights was not a hindrance to fighting "terrorism".

But Egypt -- the most populous Arab country -- is seen as a cornerstone of regional security as well as a key trade partner for France, a point Hollande raised at the business forum.

"Trade, growth and investment are of course at stake, but also security and stability and development, not only in Egypt but throughout the region," he said.

"France is the sixth largest foreign investor in Egypt," he added, addressing French and Egyptian business leaders and officials.

Sisi, in his speech, said Cairo was "working seriously to create an attractive environment for foreign investors", adding that trade between the two countries was 2.58 billion euros ($2.9 billion) last year.

The two leaders on Sunday oversaw the signing of 18 economic memorandums of understanding, and 1.2 billion euros in financing for an extension of Cairo's metro system.

The deals included financing for a wind farm and a solar power plant.

Officials travelling with Hollande said new agreements which could include defence contracts were expected on Monday.

Egypt has proved to be a lucrative market for French military hardware.

It was the first foreign country to buy French-made Rafale warplanes, and also bought two Mistral helicopter carriers.

Hollande revisited the topic of human rights on Monday, saying "France has principles and values".

"But we also want to ensure security and development," he said, referring to jihadist attacks in Egypt and the region.

On Sunday, Hollande said he had raised the case of Italian student Giulio Regeni, whose body was found covered in torture marks in February in Cairo, more than a week after his disappearance.

He said he also brought up the case of Eric Lang, a French teacher who was murdered in an Egyptian jail in 2013.

On Monday, Hollande, during a speech at the French embassy, sought to reassure expatriates in Egypt.

"I know how security issues concern you, I know your concern for one of our nationals who was killed in circumstances that remain unclear," he said referring to Lang.

"In Europe there is also the question of resolving the (case) of the young Italian," he said, referring to Regeni.

Since the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 by the military then led by Sisi, police have waged a bloody crackdown on Islamists that has killed more than 1,000 protesters.

The crackdown has spread to secular and leftwing dissidents who had supported Morsi's overthrow but then turned on Sisi.

Meanwhile, jihadists have mounted an insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen.

The Islamic State group's Egypt affiliate has also claimed responsibility for bombing a plane carrying Russian holidaymakers over Sinai last October, killing all 224 people on board.

Sisi, who won a presidential election in 2014, has made his country a key player in the fight against IS, which a US-led coalition is battling in Iraq and Syria.

After his Cairo trip, Hollande will on Tuesday visit Jordan's Prince Hassan air base, where French aircraft taking part in the coalition battling IS in Syria and Iraq are stationed.