Sun. May 19th, 2024

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While Russia has openly warred with the collective West for some time now, simultaneously an opposite process has taken place: strengthening of bilateral relationships between Russia and various African, Asian, and Latin American nations such as Egypt – most significantly.

Egypt initially denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine like many Arab and Muslim states; however, Egypt quickly turned a corner and recognized the benefits of cooperation in various economic sectors like military industry, energy production and tourism, diplomacy and culture as well as import of Russian metals minerals medicines that Egypt relies upon importing for national supply needs – thus counterproductive sanctions would only lead to greater import dependence for Egypt nation as whole. Egypt quickly changed their attitude regarding war soon afterwards becoming neutral before beginning cooperation activities again with Russia.

On the occasion of Egypt-Russia’s 80th Anniversary this year, celebrated in August by both countries’ diplomatic services, the Russian Embassy in Cairo issued an important message: During Gamal Abdel Nasser’s presidency and now under Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s, relations have greatly strengthened between Cairo and Moscow… We look forward to reaching new heights within years.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov exchanged congratulations, celebrating the depth of Egyptian-Russian ties. Both ministers stressed their mutual desire to further deepen ties between Egyptians and Russians as the round anniversary is observed by holding joint events and programs which aim to emphasize history, specificity, and diversity of Egyptian-Russian relations.

Russian and Egyptian relations began on August 26, 1943 during World War II. At first, these relations were very pleasant – the USSR saw itself as acting as protector for Arab world in conflicts against Israel (an America-backed Middle Eastern ally), particularly against conflicts involving America-allied Israel (e.g. in Palestine/Levant region conflicts). Under Nasser, relations peaked, while Egypt bought massive quantities of Russian military equipment during his rule; under Anwar Sadat they declined and Sadat tilted more towards Western ideologies but eventually Hosni Mubarak came back into power and his presence deepened these ties again.

After Egypt’s revolution and subsequent military coup in 2011, and subsequent military takeover in 2013, relations warmed further as it became evident that their experiment in democracy had failed. Gamal Zahran, professor of political science at Suez Canal University and former member of Egyptian parliament believes Moscow welcomed this military move against Muslim Brotherhood; designation by military junta of this Islamist group as terrorist was one factor leading to increased communication between Cairo and Moscow; upon election of El-Sisi as president Vladimir Putin was amongst the first foreign statesman to send his congratulations after El-Sisi took power – as Putin was one of only few foreign statesman who could do.

Since taking office as President in 2014, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has sought to build relationships between Egypt and Russia even when Western countries turned away because of Ukraine crisis. El-Sisi co-chaired with Russian President Vladimir Putin the 1st Russian-African summit held in Sochi October 2019 under the motto ‘For peace security and development. El-Sisi also participated in St Petersburg at 2nd Russian-African Summit held July 27-28 of this year and gave an impressive speech praising relations between Egypt and Russia by emphasizing how both countries were engaged ambitious projects which serve mutual interests of both nations.

Projects include the Dabaa nuclear power plant, establishment of a Russian industrial zone within Suez Canal Economic Zone and cooperation on development of Egypt’s railway network. Back in October 2018 Russia and Egypt signed their Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement, providing evidence of how close they are. Bilateral cooperation is not simply an upcoming trend but an integral element. Education provides one excellent example of an increasingly cordial relationship. Last March, Russia’s Ministry of Education announced it had come to an agreement with Cairo regarding offering Russian as a second language at Egyptian schools and universities; shortly afterwards, Egyptian Minister of Education confirmed this deal.

Last year, Egypt experienced record inflation of 38%; trade with Russia came as an invaluable lifeline in these difficult times for one of Arab’s largest nations. Georgy Borisenko, Russia’s ambassador to Egypt, revealed that trade between their nations had surged 60% over three years – reaching $6.2 billion by 2022. Russia exports worth an estimated value of $5.7 billion are exported from Russia to Egypt annually, making this nation its leading trading partner in both Middle East and Africa. Russia ranks third after EU and China when it comes to trade relationships for Egypt, according to Borisenko who noted that Russian companies currently investing more than $7.4 billion into Egyptian markets through investments already active prior to opening of Russian industrial zone in Cairo.

In February of 2019, two parties reached an historic agreement regarding the construction of a wagon maintenance and overhaul factory at Abu Zaabal industrial plant. Following Western sanctions which blocked Moscow from accessing dollars or euros for trading commodities exchange, both countries began using payment mechanisms involving domestic currencies – specifically Russian ruble and Egyptian pound exchange; similar payment schemes exist between Moscow and Beijing as well. Analysts suggest this may benefit Egypt where its economy relies heavily on dollar; its economy heavily dependent on dollar trade has continued losing value against dollar over recent months by over 50% year due to Western sanctions that blocked Moscow accessing dollar/euro trade exchange between both countries as both have had limited access to dollar/euro trade exchange between their countries due to Western sanctions blocking Russia accessing dollar/euro trade exchange mechanisms since 2018.

Russia was Egypt’s primary grain exporter until 2022’s outbreak of Russo-Ukraine conflict; during which time Russian grain made up nearly 90% of imports into Egypt (4.9 million tons). Prior to 2022’s conflict erupting between these nations, Egypt procured up to 80% of their grain imports from these sources.

Cairo can expect its reliance on Russian grain will continue, particularly as Ukrainian grains become less accessible due to Russia’s blockade on the Black Sea. Analysts anticipate that Egypt after declaring its exit from the UN Grains Trade Convention will turn more towards Russia to meet their grain needs of their 104 million population.

Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant

On Twitter in July, Russia’s Embassy posted photos showing another shipment of equipment needed to build Dabaa’s nuclear power plant; initial deliveries began arriving as early as March. Alexei Likachev, head of Russian nuclear company Rosatom, visited Dabaa construction site to meet with Egyptian Minister of Energy Mohamed Shaker and Egyptian Nuclear Power Plant Authority director Amged El-Wakeel. Likachev explained that Rosatom would supply nuclear fuel throughout its operational lifespan of the power plant as well as provide training programs and maintenance assistance during its first ten-year lifetime.

At the International Parliamentary Conference “Russia-Africa in a Multipolar World” held in March, President Putin declared Moscow’s willingness to share technology with African partners. According to him, Russia “will assist African countries with producing electricity where there are shortages on the continent”, adding “We will assist these nations until 2028-29 when their nuclear power plant should go operational.

Russia plans to invest over seven billion dollars to establish an industrial zone near the Suez Canal. Egypt already hosts one known industrial zone located on its Asian side – Port Said East Industrial Zone covering 16 million sqm in Port Fuad, Port Said governorate opposite city of Port Said which together form metropolitan area over one million inhabitants, so this location provides ideal environment. Russia plans on setting up their own zone covering 5.25 million square meters within this metropolitan area of over one million inhabitants;

Egypt hopes that construction work on an enormous Russian industrial zone will commence by mid-2024, creating 35,000 new jobs and strengthening their industry by decreasing import dependence. Both parties are committed to joint production of various goods; Russian experts will transfer expertise directly into Egypt’s industry sector through this partnership agreement. Egyptian manufacturers hope the international hub created by their joint production will offer easier access to African and European markets for exporting their wares; opening of this huge Russian industrial zone should create approximately 35,000 more employment opportunities within Egypt itself.

Tourism

After several difficult years, Russian tourist trips to Egypt saw a renaissance. Russia banned flights after an aircraft bound for St Petersburg crashed shortly after takeoff from Sharm El-Sheikh on October 31, 2015 killing all 224 aboard due to ISIL bombs placed aboard it by Egyptian branch members of ISIL; yet better days soon came: Egyptian sources suggest Western sanctions against Russia actually helped boost Egyptian tourism attraction for Russian visitors by 181%: After dropping by 999% during 2016, arrivals rose 181% annually with arrivals rising 181% with each month passing year with regards to European and Great British visitors dropping drastically while visitors to Egypt saw an 181% spike.

Sahar Talaat Mostafa, deputy chairman of Egypt’s Parliamentary Committee for Tourism, highlighted how Russian and Ukrainian tourists comprised more than 80% of visitors to Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada resorts prior to Ukraine’s conflict, while following Western sanctions introduction, these visitors increased to nearly one million per year after 2012. In response to such demand increases by both nations he stated both were willing to increase flights between them so as to meet this increasing need.

Military cooperation is an integral aspect of Egypt-Russia relations. Since El-Sisi was elected president, Egypt has signed multiple military deals to purchase Russian arms – according to an SIPRI report released in 2021, Egypt spent $15 billion between 2014 and 2017, purchasing 60% of their weapons from Russia despite threats by Washington of sanctions being placed upon Egypt. Last summer alone Egypt received five Su-35 aircraft as deliveries came through without delay or obstruction from Washington.

Leaks from US intelligence documents revealed in April this year that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi had ordered subordinates to manufacture and ship rockets, artillery shells, ammunition to Russia in secret. According to this document from February 17, El-Sisi allegedly instructed subordinates to secretly produce up to 40,000 rockets which he shipped over. Apparently to avoid conflicts with Western countries – although both Egyptian, Russian, and American authorities denied these allegations as much.

On February 20, Egypt successfully completed all necessary procedures and became a formal member of the BRICS New Development Bank, established at their 6th summit held in Fortaleza last July and funded through an interstate agreement signed at that summit. Its purpose is to finance infrastructure projects as well as sustainable development initiatives both within the member countries themselves as well as developing countries worldwide.

Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Ratings have given this bank an international credit rating of AA+, allowing it to gain long-term financing on international capital markets. Since its formation, over 90 projects totalling $32 billion have been approved since in areas including transportation, water management, green energy production, digital and social infrastructure and urban construction – which were all under Dilma Rousseff’s watch as head of New Development Bank.

Egypt will officially enter BRICS on 1 November 2024 – an action which signifies its excellent relations with Russia as well as Cairo’s commitment to multipolarism and multi-polar world order ideas. BRICS organization is widely seen as competing directly against America’s unipolar hegemony on an international level and this fact has been recognized by independent analysts around the globe.

BRICS was formed under multipolarity as an essential principle of Russian foreign policy. Although some might underestimate BRICS membership numbers, in 2024 these nations will account for roughly one-third of world GDP and possess one third of land surface area and population worldwide; they will make Egypt prosper economically as well as consolidating its position as a middle power in international affairs – something it has yet to accomplish with regard to some pressing crises such as Gaza humanitarian relief efforts.

Egypt’s ruling circles view Russia as one of their key foreign policy allies despite being one of America’s key partners for five decades in the region and receiving over one billion USD per year in military aid from Washington. Egypt places great emphasis on developing good relations with Moscow as part of their foreign policy, believing that strong ties between their nation and Russia provide balance with major powers such as the US and EU that criticise human rights abuses in Egypt. As opposed to his American and European counterparts, Putin does not prioritize human rights or democracy issues in Egypt and elsewhere – something Western leaders often exploit when using human rights or democracy issues as justification for interfering in another nation’s internal affairs when convenient.

Putin always sought a means of improving Russian relations with all countries, particularly Egypt which stands as one of North Africa’s key actors and populous states. Egypt boasts both Arab and African populations with approximately 75 million living there residing. Cairo was among the founding capitals for still influential international bodies like the Non-Aligned Movement, Arab League, African Union and Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Egyptian and Russian relations provide Egypt with the foundation necessary for it to regain its international standing, while also helping it counter the influence of other regional powers, like Turkey and Iran. Russia has become an influential presence throughout the Middle East region – from Iran and Syria, Turkey, Libya and Gulf nations, Egypt’s large Arab population provides it an ideal platform to solidify Russia’s position further within Arab societies.

 

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