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Why Europe Is Floating Egypt's Navy

The Promise and Pitfalls of Arms Deals With Cairo

Egyptian sailors on board the ENS Anwar El Sadat, an Egpytian helicopter carrier, in Saint-Nazaire, France, September 2016. Stephane Mahe / REUTERS

It has been six decades since Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former president of Egypt, nationalized the Suez Canal. His message, though, still resonates: Egypt is geopolitically indispensable, and it knows it. Through the Suez Canal, the country lies at the nexus of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Since 1859, when Egyptians first began digging the Suez under French supervision, the canal has complicated ties between Cairo and the rest of the world. When Nasser nationalized the waterway in 1956, France joined forces with the United Kingdom to reacquire it. In response, Nasser sunk 40 ships, closing the waterway to all shipping. 

In the two decades that followed, France became Israel’s chief foreign ally. The main forms of support were France’s sale of Fouga Magister jet fighters to Israel and its assistance with the nuclear program at Dimona. As Paris cultivated Tel Aviv as an ally, Cairo backed the anti-colonial revolt in Algeria

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