Egypt’s Sisi to visit France, Italy in first EU trip


President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi visits France and Italy tomorrow in his first European trip since ousting his Islamist predecessor and overseeing a crackdown that damaged Egypt’s international standing.

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 said.

The visit, which begins on 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.

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 Baghdadi militia, 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.

“France’s top concern in Libya is about the potential of the Libyan south becoming a refuge for terrorists, smugglers and radicals, 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, religious news agency I.Media said, citing diplomatic sources. It will be the first visit to the Vatican by an Egyptian leader in eight years.

The talks are likely to address the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and Islam’s main theological centre, Cairo’s famed Al Azhar University. Sisi also has talks slated with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and business leaders, according to the Italian news agency Ansa.

They are expected to discuss investment, poverty reduction and counter-terror measures.