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Egypt to buy $426m worth of helicopters from Boeing

Egypt’s economic crisis has raised questions about its yearslong splurge on military hardware
Soldiers disembark off an Egyptian helicopter during a joint military drill between Egypt and Sudan in the Um Sayyala area, northwest of Khartoum, on 31 May 2021 (AFP)

The US Army has awarded Boeing a $426m contract to produce 12 new CH-47F Chinook helicopters for the Egyptian Air Force, the company announced on Tuesday.

The US State Department approved the possible sale of helicopters and related equipment to Egypt estimated at $2.6 bn in May 2022. Egypt requested to purchase 23 Chinooks, suggesting the country could purchase more.

“The F-model aircraft will enhance Egypt’s Chinook capabilities and help effectively accomplish its heavy-lift objectives,” Ken Eland, vice president of at Boeing's H-47 programme said. “[Our] partnership with the Egyptian Air Force remains strong as we continue to work together to modernize their fleet.”

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A country of more than 100 million straddling the Middle East and North Africa, Egypt is a strategic US ally in the region and home to the Suez Canal, the vital shipping artery through which 12 percent of world trade passes.

It receives about $1.3bn in US military aid annually, the second-highest amount of any country after Israel.

However, ties between the two allies have come under strain over the Biden administration's critique of human rights issues in the country.

Egypt is considered to be the world's third-worst jailer of journalists, behind China and Turkey, with an estimated 60,000 political prisoners being held in jails in the country, according to rights groups.

Splurging on military gear

Last year, the Biden administration froze $130m in military aid to Egypt, citing its human rights record. The move, however, was criticised by some human rights activists and some lawmakers for not going far enough.

Egypt has sought to diversify its arms suppliers, striking deals with France and Russia. Between 2017 and 2021, Moscow was the single largest provider of arms to the country, as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi looked to hedge against reliance on the US.

With the outbreak of the war in Ukraine and strains in Russia’s arms industry, senior US officials have suggested there is an opportunity to chip into the Kremlin's inroads.

In March, General Frank McKenzie, the former top commander for forces in the Middle East, told Congress the US planned to approve the sale of F-15 fighter jets to Egypt.

Egypt’s economic crisis has also raised questions about its splurge on military hardware. The country faces a shortage of foreign currency needed to repay about $158 billion in foreign debt. Egypt has been forced to devalue its pound, contributing to double-digit inflation.

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