France will hand over to Egypt the first of two Mistral-class warships in a port in southwestern France, local news sources in Egypt and France reported Wednesday. Egyptian Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi and his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, are planning to attend the raising of the Egyptian flag when the ship is delivered Thursday.
Around 170 Egyptian crew members sailed the ship in a weeklong training mission this month in order to familiarize themselves with the equipment, according to Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram. The deal with Egypt for the two helicopter carriers was finalized in September 2015 for 950 million euros, or approximately $1.06 billion, and the second vessel is set to be delivered in September.
The Mistrals were made available in 2014 after French President François Hollande canceled a deal with Russia made by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011. The sale would have been the first arms deal between a Western power and Russia in history, and it was canceled following U.S. and European outcry after Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March 2014.
France struggled to find a buyer in the year that followed, as upkeep of the ships cost French taxpayers several hundreds of millions of euros in maintenance. Paris also had to reimburse Moscow for the broken contract and agreed to pay less than 1.2 billion euros, or approximately $1.31 billion, according to an estimate from the French defense minister in August, Reuters reported.
After France found a buyer in Egypt, Cairo went on to purchase a Fremm multipurpose frigate and 24 Rafale fighter jets. The purchases appear to have been part of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s plan to augment the country’s military might.
“Increasing the military capability of the Egyptian military means that it can strike a strategic balance" in the Middle East and North Africa, el-Sissi told the Associated Press in September.