Egypt's military has confirmed the order of thirty Rafale fighter planes from the French defence firm Dassault Aviation at a price tag of nearly 4 billion euros. Human Rights Watch slammed France over the deal, saying it encouraged "the worst worst repression in decades" under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The latest order will be financed through a 10-year loan, the military said in a statement on Monday.
The investigative website Disclose has reported that the order is part of a major defence project which will cost the poverty-stricken north African nation almost four billion euros. One-third of Egypt's population of one hundred million lives on less than two euros per day.
Egypt is the world's third biggest arms importer, after Saudi Arabia and India, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Cairo's arms purchases increased by 136 percent over the last decade and it has diversified its sourcing beyond the United States, buying military equipment from France, Germany and Russia, the institute says in a report released earlier this year.
The new Rafale deal "reinforces the strategic and military partnership between France and Egypt," French Defence Minister Florence Parly said in a statement on Tuesday.
"This contract illustrates the strategic nature of the partnership that France maintains with Egypt, while our two countries are resolutely committed to the fight against terrorism and are working for stability in their regional environment," the statement added.
Cairo has positioned itself as a bulwark of stability in the region as the conflict in its western neighbour Libya continues.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron enjoy a close relationship built on mutual security interests.
France was the main weapons supplier to Egypt between 2013-2017, including the sale of 24 warplanes with an option for 12 more. Those contracts dried up, including deals for more Rafale jets and warships that had been at an advanced stage.
Diplomats said that was as much to do with financing issues over fears about Cairo's long-term ability to repay state-backed guaranteed loans, rather than concerns Paris had with the human rights situation in Egypt.
Benedicte Jeannerod, Human Rights Watch Director for France, denounced the deal outright.
"By signing a mega-arms contract with Sisi's government while the latter presides over the worst repression in decades in Egypt, the eradication of the human rights community in the country, and undertakes extremely serious violations under the pretext of the fight against terrorism, France is only encouraging this ruthless repression," Jeannerod told Reuters.
Macron said in December he would not make the sale of weapons to Egypt conditional on a commitment to respect human rights because he did not want to weaken Cairo's ability to counter violence in the region.