CAIRO (AFP) – President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visits France and Italy next week in his first European trip since ousting his conservative predecessor and overseeing a crackdown that damaged Egypt’s international standing.
Sisi, who was then army chief, overthrew president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, prompting a wave of violence between Morsi supporters and security forces that drew rebukes from the US and Europe.
But Egypt has come back in from the cold since Sisi’s landslide election win earlier this year, boosted by its increasingly central role in combating regional conservative militancy.
The four-day tour, during which Sisi will meet the French and Italian heads of state, is aimed at coordinating a response to fighting between government-backed troops and militias in Libya, as well as boosting economic ties.
“Both sides will look at enhancing cooperation in all sectors,” presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef told AFP.
The visit, which begins Monday, comes at a time when Egypt’s military is battling its own militant insurgency in the Sinai peninsula, in which scores of policemen and soldiers have died.
A brazen suicide attack last month killed 30 soldiers near the North Sinai capital El-Arish, sparking a state of emergency and leading to a curfew being slapped on several areas.
Sisi met French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September, and received his foreign and defence ministers in Cairo. The two are expected to discuss a response to a conflict in Libya pitting militias and their allies against a weak but internationally-backed government.
Both Egypt and France argue that the “terrorist threat” in Libya should merit the same attention as the Islamic State group, whose militants have captured parts of Iraq and Syria, winning a pledge of allegiance from militants in the Sinai.
“We will definitely discuss with the French side, and look at ways of helping the Libyan government to restore stability and peace in Libya,” Youssef said.
Egypt has denied reports that it facilitated air strikes by the United Arab Emirates, a close ally, against militias in Libya.
“France’s top concern in Libya is about the potential of the Libyan south becoming a refuge for terrorists, smugglers and radical conservatives, especially for Mali,” where a French-led military operation ousted extremists last year, said the International Crisis Group’s Issandr El Amrani.
Sisi is also to meet with the head of France’s National Assembly, Claude Bartolone, on Wednesday.
In Italy, which he will visit first, Sisi will meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday, news agency I.Media said, citing diplomatic sources.
It will be the first visit to the Vatican by an Egyptian leader in eight years.