According to a report by investigative website Disclose, based on leaked documents, the French military was implicated in at least 19 airstrikes carried out by the Egyptian army against civilians between 2016 and 2018.
The mission between the two countries was codenamed Operation Sirli, which the report notes was designed to provide intelligence on militants’ movements along Egypt’s western border with Libya.
The documents, kept confidential under France’s “national defence secrecy” regulations (“le secret de la défense nationale”), originate from the services of the presidential office, the Élysée Palace, the French armed forces ministry, and the French military intelligence services, notes the report by Disclose.
The documents, it states, show “how this military cooperation exercise, kept secret from the public, was diverted from its original mission, that of reconnaissance of terrorist activity, in favour of a campaign of arbitrary executions”, which involved state crimes about which the French presidential office was informed, but took no action.
@disclosetv has obtained 100s of classified French official documents which reveal massive extrajudicial executions by #Egypt along the Libyan border, perpetrated with the assistance of France through a secret military operation. https://t.co/4gs0zY6mfr @soltan @DAWNmenaorg— Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) November 21, 2021
“In principle, the mission…consisted of searching the Western Desert to find possible terrorist threats coming from Libya”, using a light aircraft designed for surveillance and reconnaissance,” the report said.
“But very quickly, the (French) members of the team understand that the intelligence supplied to the Egyptians are used to kill civilians suspected of contraband,” it added.
Operation Sirli began in February 2016 during the government of President Francois Hollande and continued despite the qualms expressed by both French military intelligence (DRM) and the airforce about the way Egypt was using the intelligence, report stated.
In one such instance, a note was addressed to French Defence Minister Florence Parly on January 22, 2019, before French President Emmanuel Macron’s official visit to Egypt.
The French military was nevertheless still deployed in Egypt, the Disclose report revealed.
The French opposition has called for a parliamentary committee to be set up to investigate the scandal, while the French Defence Minister Florence Parly has also ordered a probe.
The far-left opposition party France Unbowed, in a statement, has called for foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who served as defense minister from 2012 to 2017 under Hollande, to appear in the parliament for explanation on the matter.
The defense ministry also issued a statement, confirming that the two countries had an agreement in the field of intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism operations and were working together on it.
France is a main weapons supplier to Egypt. French arms sales to Egypt increased considerably when Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took the helm in Cairo in 2014.
Investigation by Disclose reveals how #France became complicit in strikes by #Egypt military targeting smugglers in the western desert https://t.co/XMSbUpv3x2 #EgyptPapers— Avner Gidron (@AvnerGidron) November 22, 2021
Since then, Egypt has purchased a vast range of French weapons including Rafale jet fighters, a frigate, four corvettes and two Mistral helicopter-carriers.
French Presient Emmanuel Macron, who has voiced support for what he describes as Egypt’s “fight against violent religious fundamentalism”, awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of merit, to his Egyptian counterpart.
Macron’s move, however, drew outrage from activists who have criticized Sisi’s human rights record.