Egyptian police and the French-made armored vehicles

Armored vehicles manufactured in France by Renault Trucks Defense, a subsidiary of Arquus, appear to have recently been used by the Egyptian police, according to an open source investigation by Disclose and its investigative partners.

This new information appears to contradict a statement President Macron made during a January 2019 press conference with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in which he said it was “very clear” French armored vehicles should be used for “exclusively military” purposes — in other words, that they should not be used by police, in whose hands they could become involved in the repression of Egypt’s own citizens. Human rights abuses by Egyptian police are well-documented.

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tners of the French arms investigation has also uncovered information that the armored vehicles, known as Sherpas, were operated by Egypt’s Unit 888, a paramilitary force first deployed in the anti-terrorism “Comprehensive operation” in North Sinai, which started in February 2018.

In May 2019, aid group Human Rights Watch released a report on crimes committed against civilians in the course of the Sinai operation.

France exported 16 and 96 Sherpa vehicles to Egypt in 2012 and 2016, respectively, according to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute indicates that at least 18 Sherpa vehicles delivered to Egypt in 2012 were earmarked “for police” specifically.

Analysis: Egyptian Police and Sherpa Vehicles.

Disclose has analyzed a YouTube video posted shortly after start of the Comprehensive operation in Sinai. Footage from the video, which has been geolocated to Arish, the capital of the North Sinai Governorate, shows a Sherpa vehicle whose license plate is not visible. It appears to be traveling in a group of vehicles bearing police license plates, which suggests that the Sherpa may be part of a police convoy. Until now, the use of Sherpa armored vehicles in North Sinai has not been documented.

Additional footage that has not been geolocated from the same video which shows a Sherpa vehicle bearing a police license plate. And a second video posted the same month appears to show two separate instances of Sherpa vehicles bearing police license plates.

Finally, an Instagram post published in August 2017 shows a Sherpa vehicle with a police license plate and other police service markings.

Analysis: Paramilitary Unit 888, Sherpa Vehicles, and MIDS Vehicles.

Two photos posted on Facebook after the start of the Comprehensive Operation appear to show a member of Unit 888, a newly-formed counterterrorism unit attached to the Egyptian army and including members of the police, posing beside Sherpa vehicles. In one photograph, the Sherpa vehicle bears a license plate with the word "police."

In addition, geolocated clips from a YouTube video confirm that MIDS vehicles, protective vehicles also manufactured by Renault Trucks Defense, were involved in the Comprehensive operation. In more than one case, the MIDS vehicles display license plates or other markings associating them with Egyptian police.

For more than a decade, France has been legally bound by the European Union’s Common Position 2008/944/CFSP, which requires countries to “deny an export licence if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment to be exported might be used for internal repression.”

On August 14, 2013, French-made Sherpa vehicles were involved in the massacre of likely at least 1,000 protesters in Egypt’s Rabaa and Nahda squares. Following the killings, which were described by Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth as “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history,” EU member states agreed to suspend export licenses to Egypt for equipment that might be used for internal repression. (Almost half of all EU member states have defied this declaration, according to Amnesty International.)

Despite its membership in these agreements, France was the foremost supplier of arms to Egypt from 2013 to 2017.


Responses from officials.

In response to requests for comment from Disclose and its investigative partners, the prime Minister’s office provided a statement that, translated from French, reads in part, "France exercises a strict, transparent and responsible control on exports of war materials. Strict control, which is based on a thorough interdepartmental examination, the objective of which is to evaluate all the aspects of the proposed operation. … Responsible control, because all transfers are framed by imperatives related to national security but also to the respect of France's international commitments, some of which impose specific obligations on France. … Transparent control: all data on French exports are accessible online and updated annually as part of the report to Parliament and France's report on the Arms Trade Treaty.”

Arquus did not answer Diclose’s questions. The Conseil des Industries de Défense Françaises, an association of defense industry groups in France, provided the following statement, which has been translated from French: "The action of industrialists falls within the strict framework of French regulations of the sale of military equipment for export. No sale of systems is carried out without prior authorization issued by an interministerial commission placed with the Prime Minister and presided on by the Secretary General of Defense and National Security. The industrialists are willing to apply the law in all its rigor and scope and are in compliance with international principles relative to the rights of man and of businesses.”

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