Egypt Defense Expo opens and shows the ugly face of the war industry. Exclusive report from Cairo

The third Egypt Defense Expo, a biannual event that boasts being “the only security event that covers Africa and the Middle East” has kicked off in Cairo, with the President of Egypt, hundreds of exhibitors, as well as a smattering of regional dictators in attendance. 

The third such incarnation of the arms fair, which bills itself as “award-winning” runs from December 4th-7th with an estimated 35,000 people from across the globe in attendance.

What is the Egypt Defense Expo?

EDEX is exactly as it sounds, a trade show not unlike those held for the travel, or hospitality industry, where people come to see the newest products and services, although in this case, the products are by and large instruments of death.

And it is here that you truly get to see not just the US Military Industrial Complex (the USA pavilion being the largest), but also the whole global “business of war”. Heads of government, military commanders, and those in the private industry walk around shooting the breeze and indeed making deals. 

And far from talking in hushed corners, people are quite open when in conversation, something I discovered at a US helicopter stand where a middle-eastern gentleman asked about using them in the oil sector to be told that “the machine guns can be removed” for which the reply was “It’s fine, we can keep them”. 

And this was just one of the thousands of conversations taking place, with over 50 nations and their military industries being represented from big guns such as the USA and China, to India, Pakistan, and Kazakhstan as well as erstwhile foes Armenia and Azerbaijan

The business of war

And much like other similar events such as SOFEX and beyond the overarching message was clear, war is big business, peace not so much so. 

What is also interesting is just how large and indeed deep the industry goes. Of course the most interesting, or pervasive elements were things like rocket systems, anti-aircraft guns, attack drones and even a rather over the top “Gaddafi” style golden gun, the rabbit hole ran much deeper.

This included companies selling everything from military ration meals, military clothing – mostly made in China, companies that make the ridiculous medals so popular in despotic nations to even hardy cell phones that will survive being constantly dropped in war zones. 

What war in Gaza?

Perhaps though one of the most surreal elements of the show was not only the normality of things, but perhaps the complete ignoring of the massacres currently happening in Gaza and Sudan (both next door), as well as the War in Ukraine.

Yes, some people dropped out of coming to the event, something that probably happened more due to bad Egyptian organization than war, but for the most part not only was it business as usual, but no one even spoke about, nor seemed to care about the neighboring wars. Israel was of course not present, but Ukraine did send a delegation.

Interestingly they were fairly candid about the kits they were trying to sell, proudly saying how various weapons and the like had helped in the war with Russia, while also saying between gritted teeth that they were “winning the war”. 

The biggest overall takeaway from the whole event though was just how important the arms industry is to not just every major country in the world, but just how huge the global weapons trade is. 

Politicians might like to talk about peace, but so long as war and death remain as profitable as they are, then talk with regards to peace will always remain cheap and not just undesired, but unattainable.