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Behind the Headlines U.S. Seen Replacing France As Egypt’s Main Arms Supplier

French industrial circles are reportedly “highly worried” that America will soon replace them as Egypt’s main arms supplier. The French, according to reliable reports, believe President Anwar Sadat has shelved for the time being the project of an autonomous Arab arms industry and counts on U.S. material to equip his army and air force.

The French industrialists believe that Sadat had obtained before or during the Camp David summit conference a firm American promise to supply Egypt with modern aircraft and other sophisticated equipment. These sources say the American pledge was that this equipment will be delivered simultaneously with the implementation of the Camp David agreement.

French industries have played a major role in the creation of the “Arab Industrial Organization” (AIO), the umbrella company entrusted with the implementation of the project, and a French industrial delegation is due to fly to Cairo to find out Egypt’s intentions. The AIO was due to start assembling early next year the Franco-British light Jaguar jet and start building before the end of 1979 the French Mirage-2000, described as the equivalent of the American F-15.

The French have reportedly been informed that all these plans have been indefinitely postponed and this in spite of recent Egyptian attempts, dating from last summer, to have the project implemented as soon as possible. According to French sources, the president of the AIO, Ashraf Marawan, has been fired by Sadat under American pressure. The French readily admit, however, that America can deliver faster and cheaper than the Arab industry, the planes and equipment Sadat wants.

Marawan last month conferred with Saudi Arabia’s King Khaled in Cleveland, Ohio, where the King was recuperating from open heart surgery and the French hope that Saudi Arabia, which is funding the entire project might keep some of it alive on its own territory. Originally the actual factories were to have been built in Egypt and would have used Egyptian labor.

The French say that several American industrial delegations have already visited Cairo to discuss U.S. arms sales to Egypt. They say that one contract providing for the assembly of American-made jeeps in Egypt has already been signed and that other contracts are soon due to follow.

France is the world’s third largest arms exporter and its Egyptian project was originally estimated to be worth some $4 billion to French industries. Most of these companies, and they have a reputation of knowing exactly what goes on in their field, are now convinced that America is on the point of supplying Egypt with the arms it feels it needs to modernize its air and ground forces.

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