The UK government has planned to conclude an agreement with Egypt for the sale of two ex-Royal Fleet Auxiliary solid stores ships for the first time in more than 30 years, a deal criticized by human rights groups.
In a statement on Friday, the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) said it had signed a “landmark deal” to sell two Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships (RFA) - Fort Austin and Fort Rosalie - to Egypt, a move which they said could “support UK jobs,”
The statement described the sale as the “first military vessel deal with Egypt in more than three decades” and added that negotiations were underway for a “refurbishment contract.”
Ex-RFA Fort Rosalie and ex-RFA Fort Austin, both more than 40 years old, were released from service earlier this year. Egypt has entered negotiations with ship repair group Cammell Laird for the regeneration and refit of the two ships – both laid up in Bidston docks, Birkenhead – prior to delivery.
Both Royal Navy Solid Support ships have two flight decks, which means as well as traditional replenishment at sea they are also able to use helicopters to offload supplies, according to a statement published on the Defense Equipment and Support website affiliated with UK Defense Ministry.
The sale has been criticized by activists, who have voiced concerns about the Egyptian government’s human rights record and criticized international powers turning a blind eye to a major crackdown launched by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Samuel Perlo-Freeman, a research coordinator with Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), said, “Supplying such major military equipment, treating the Egyptian military as a valued partner, provides the regime a seal of approval and legitimacy, while disheartening opposition. Once again the UK places industry interests and geopolitics over human rights.”
The Egyptian president has faced international condemnation for a crackdown on civil society groups since he took power in June 2014, one year after he led the military to oust President Mohamed Morsi in a coup. He served as the defense minister in Morsi’s government before orchestrating the coup.
Human rights groups and activists have constantly accused Sisi of violating public freedoms and suppressing opponents. According to rights groups, an estimated 60,000 political prisoners are being held in Egyptian jails.
On September 2020, a resolution issued by the European Parliament urged EU member states to impose an arms embargo on Cairo fueled by concerns that European weapons and military equipment might be used for domestic oppression in Egypt.
Despite Sisi’s bleak human rights record, most EU nations have completely ignored the resolution so far. Since 2011, the UK government has licensed $297.6 million worth of arms to Egypt, according to CAAT.
Meanwhile, the administration of US President Joe Biden approved an arms sale worth nearly $200 million to the North African country.