Egypt's Sisi to visit France, Italy in first EU trip

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visits France and Italy next week in his first European trip since ousting his Islamist predecessor and overseeing a crackdown that damaged Egypt`s international standing.

Cairo: President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visits France and Italy next week in his first European trip since ousting his Islamist predecessor and overseeing a crackdown that damaged Egypt`s international standing.

Sisi, who was then Army chief, overthrew president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, prompting a wave of violence between Morsi supporters and security forces that drew rebukes from the US and Europe. 

But Egypt has come back in from the cold since Sisi`s landslide election win earlier this year, boosted by its increasingly central role in combating regional Islamist militancy.

The four-day tour, during which Sisi will meet the French and Italian heads of state, is aimed at coordinating a response to fighting between government-backed troops and Islamist militias in Libya, as well as boosting economic ties.

"Both sides will look at enhancing cooperation in all sectors," presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef told a news agency. 

The visit, which begins on Monday, comes at a time when Egypt`s military is battling its own militant insurgency in the Sinai peninsula, in which scores of policemen and soldiers have died.

A brazen suicide attack last month killed 30 soldiers near the North Sinai capital El-Arish, sparking a state of emergency and leading to a curfew being slapped on several areas.

Sisi met French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September, and received his foreign and defence ministers in Cairo.

The two are expected to discuss a response to a conflict in Libya pitting Islamist militias and their allies against a weak but internationally-backed government.

Both Egypt and France argue that the "terrorist threat" in Libya should merit the same attention as the Islamic State group, whose militants have captured parts of Iraq and Syria, winning a pledge of allegiance from militants in the Sinai.

"We will definitely discuss with the French side, and look at ways of helping the Libyan government to restore stability and peace in Libya," Youssef said.

Egypt has denied reports that it facilitated air strikes by the United Arab Emirates, a close ally, against militias in Libya.

"France`s top concern in Libya is about the potential of the Libyan south becoming a refuge for terrorists, smugglers and radical Islamists, especially for Mali," where a French-led military operation ousted extremists last year, said the International Crisis Group`s Issandr El Amrani. 

Sisi is also to meet with the head of France`s National Assembly, Claude Bartolone, on Wednesday. In Italy, which he will visit first, Sisi will meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday, religious news agency I.Media said, citing diplomatic sources.

It will be the first visit to the Vatican by an Egyptian leader in eight years.

The talks are likely to address the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and Sunni Islam`s main theological centre, Cairo`s famed Al-Azhar University.

Sisi also has talks slated with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and business leaders, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

They are expected to discuss investment, poverty reduction and counter-terror measures. 

Sisi visited Russia after his election in May 2014, seen at the time as a snub against the United States which had withheld military aid over Egypt`s deadly crackdown on Morsi supporters that has about 1,400 people dead.

But his trip next week comes as Egypt`s international standing is increasingly rehabilitated, in part due to a shared enemy with the Western countries bombing IS militants in Iraq and Syria. 

Egypt`s deadliest militant group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, claimed allegiance to IS earlier this month. 

The United States itself promised to restore military aid to Egypt, and has backtracked on calls for Cairo to release Islamist figures such as Morsi, who is facing several charges that could lead to a death sentence.

Morsi`s Muslim Brotherhood, once the largest political movement in Egypt, has been reduced to an underground movement whose top leaders are behind bars. 

Its protests have increasingly given way to bomb attacks by hardcore Islamists, frustrating government efforts to revitalise Egypt`s tourism industry, which has struggled since a 2011 uprising toppled veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.