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France-Egypt-Jordan-Saudi Arabia

French PM seals ties with embarrassing Middle East allies

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (L) shakes hands with Egyptian Defence minister General Sedki Sobhi (R) as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) looks on. October 10, 2015
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (L) shakes hands with Egyptian Defence minister General Sedki Sobhi (R) as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) looks on. October 10, 2015 KHALED DESOUKI / AFP

After Egypt and Jordan, French Prime minister Manuel Valls is due to visit Saudi Arabia on Monday for the final leg of his four-day tour of the Middle East. He's expected to sign a series of lucrative aerospace contracts with his Saudi partners, after already sealing a deal with Egypt for the sale of two helicopter carriers left over from Russia.

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"France has a special relationship with its three allies (Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia)," Prime minister Manuel Valls has been insisting during his Middle East tour. It's a relationship borne out of mutual interests against the scourge of Islamic State and the deepening refugee crisis.

In the past four days, we've also seen how "special" it is in replenishing France's coffers, after Paris signed a lucrative deal with Cairo on Saturday for the sale of two Mistral warships originally intended for Russia - before that deal fell through.

Estimated to be worth 950 million Euros, the Mistral sale, along with 24 Rafale fighter jets that Egypt has already bought from France - when no one else would- could help revive the country's flagging economy.

But at what cost? This is what Human rights activists are asking. It shouldn't be forgotten that Valls is meeting with governments who still practise the death penalty against opponents.

In Saudi Arabia, for instance, 134 people have been executed this year alone. Meanwhile, last week in France, activists demonstrated outside the Prime minister's office, begging him to plead with Riyad to spare the life of Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, who has been sentenced to cruxifiction.

France says the topic will be brought up "discreetly," but given that Tuesday will see the opening of the Franco-Saudi forum, where some 200 French companies are hoping to do business, it's business, and not human rights that looks likely to dominate.

Saudi Arabia has indeed shown interest in purchasing flexible assault naval vessels like the Mistral helicopter carriers sold to Egypt as well as multi-purpose Fremm frigates.

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