CAIRO (AP) — French President Francois Hollande arrived in Egypt Sunday on a visit his hosts say will deepen the “distinct and strong” ties the two nations share, but which is also taking place while Egypt’s image in Europe is being battered over the case of an Italian graduate student kidnapped and tortured to death in Cairo.
In Egypt as part of a three-nation Middle East tour, the French leader was accompanied by a large business delegation. The two countries are expected to sign accords in the fields of energy, infrastructure and culture, according to an Egyptian presidential statement.
Egyptian and French flags as well as poster portraits of Hollande and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi now adorn major roads and thoroughfares in Cairo, a practice that is reserved for key visiting leaders.
Live televised footage from Qasr el-Qobba presidential palace in Cairo showed children waving Egyptian and French flags. As Hollande’s car entered the palace grounds, it was flanked by soldiers on horseback carrying flags.
El-Sissi has invested time, energy and travel to mend ties with western Europe after a chilly period over the 2013 ouster by the military, led by el-Sissi at the time, of Egypt’s first elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi. Later, relations vastly improved, with France and Italy emerging as the Egyptian leader’s strongest EU backers.
Hollande was the only western European head of state present at the ceremony last year marking the inauguration of a major extension to the Suez Canal, a multi-billion dollar project that el-Sissi lists as among his top achievements in the 22 months he has been in office. Egypt has struck a multibillion dollar deal with France to buy 24 Rafale fighter jets and is reportedly finalizing details to buy two Mistral class helicopter carriers.
The two countries coordinate on combatting terrorism and, like Italy, they both have a keen interest in containing a local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group in Libya, Egypt’s western neighbor.
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