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Egypt to expand Russia cooperation after fall out with US: FM

Foreign minister Nabil Fahmy, in a interview with AFP, speaking ahead of a visit on Wednesday by Russia's defence and foreign ministers to discuss arms sales and political relations

AFP, Saturday 9 Nov 2013
Egyptian Foreign minister Nabil Fahmy (Photo: Reuters)
Views: 2535
Views: 2535

Egypt will expand cooperation with Russia in the wake of a diplomatic spat with long-time ally the United States following president Mohamed Morsi's overthrow, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said Saturday.

The foreign minister, in a interview with AFP, was speaking ahead of a visit on Wednesday by Russia's defence and foreign ministers to discuss arms sales and political relations.

Fahmy said strained relations with Washington, which suspended some of its massive military aid to Cairo after the army toppled Morsi amid mass protests against him, had improved with Secretary of State John Kerry's visit last Sunday.

But Egypt is taking a more "independent" tack and broadening its choices, he said.

"Independence is having choices. So the objective of this foreign policy is to provide Egypt with choices, more choices. So I'm not going to substitute. I'm going to add," he said.

"I see this as a beginning of a new phase," he said.

Kerry's visit "left better sentiments here in Egypt," Fahmy said of the visit just a day before Morsi went on trial for inciting the killings of protesters.

"It does not mean everything has been resolved. It does not mean there won't be hiccups in the relationship in the future," Fahmy said, speaking in his office on the banks of the Nile River.

Egypt had close ties with Russia until several years before president Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel in 1979, bringing in roughly $1.3 billion in yearly US military aid over the subsequent decades.

Turning to domestic issues, Fahmy said the deadly tumult that swept Egypt after the Morsi's overthrow in July had decreased, but "it will take time for it to subside completely."

More than 1,000 people, mostly Islamists, have died in clashes and thousands been arrested in a harsh crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood following his overthrow.

Informal mediation attempts with the Muslim Brotherhood have failed because of the Islamists' intransigence, Fahmy said.

"There have been attempts to engage Muslim Brotherhood leaders, yes," Fahmy said, citing an attempt by intellectual Kamal Abul Magd to mediate between the government and the Islamists, which went nowhere.

"And there have been other informal attempts," he added.

"We don't yet see a clear commitment from the Muslim Brotherhood that they want to be part of a 21st century modern Egypt that is inclusive to all people, and that can be done peacefully," he said.

For now, a 50-member panel appointed by the interim government is preparing a new constitution, which could possibly be put to a referendum next month, paving the way for parliamentary and presidential elections.

The new constitution could stipulate whether groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, whose activities have been banned, would be able to contest the parliamentary elections hopefully to be held in the spring, Fahmy said.

"If the constitution... lays down rules under which the (Muslim Brotherhood's) Freedom and Justice Party would be allowed to run, they would be allowed to run," he said.

In the past, religious parties had been banned from elections, but the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups circumvented that by registering parties with vague platforms.

The military, from which every president before Morsi has come, has signalled it wants to retain broad privileges in the new constitution.

Fahmy said he could not predict the military's powers in the new constitution

"But there is clearly a trend, there is a commitment, not only a trend, that this would be a civilian constitution. It is neither a theocratic nor a military state," he said.

In both parliamentary and the presidential elections that followed the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Brotherhood emerged victorious.

But Morsi's one year in power turned many against the Islamists, who were accused of monopolising government and mismanaging the economy. Millions took to the streets demanding Morsi's resignation before the military stepped in.

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12-11-2013 06:59am
Fahmy is too clever by half...
This shift seems a smart move to a few and has been in the works for some time. Trouble is, in reality, Russia has little to offer that Egypt truly needs. A smarter move would be to move closer to China, but to keep the door to America open just a bit, as American weaponry is the best in the world and spare parts are always readily available. The one thing that must never be attempted is to insult American intelligence by 'playing the Russian card.' Those words, also, should apply to American political leaders - don't insult the intelligence of Egyptian (or other Middle Eastern) leaders. There is room for respectful dialogue between all leaders and talking heads.
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William Greene
10-11-2013 07:03pm
An observer
The reality is that the majority of Egypt’s military equipment is made in America. It took Egypt decades to switch from Russian made equipment to American made equipment. It will take decades for Egypt to switch to Russian made equipment for the military again. This will cost billions of dollars that Egypt does not have. (Right now Egypt is asking for loans from the International Monetary Fund just to keep Egypt’s economy solvent.) The reality is that Egypt depends on America for its military survival and America depends on Egypt to maintain real stability in the Middle East. This is a reality that both nations know is not going to change in the near future.
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Sam Enslow
10-11-2013 07:18am
This serves US interests
Since Egypt found money to purchase arms, it is going to buy them from Russia? If Egypt has the cash to buy arms, why does it complain about the US military aid cuts - especially since the cuts actually affect very little. But this will make US tax payers happy. After all, the money to pay for these arms come them. The US spends about $200 billion a year protecting sea lanes that transport oil of which the US uses about 10%. Soon the US will start exporting oil and natural gas. Anyone notice the price drop in oil? If Russia and the EU want to take on this job, let them. If the Arab states want true independence, they would do this job themselves and manufacture their own arms. The only thing I regret about these new arrangements is the crude and rude way Egyptians are going about it. All the anti-US rhetoric is heard in the US. That will discourage two things Egypt really needs, foreign investment and tourism. People tend to visit places where they feel welcome. It will seem rather strange to potential investors that Egypt has found new money to by arms, but cannot pay the debts it owes foreign petroleum companies. But to have Russia or another country take responsibility for the region is not against US interests although the Neo-Cons (Bush's people) will complain. I know the amount of US aid to Egypt is only a peanut to Egyptians, but US taxpayers can use every dime they can get especially when the money taken out of their pockets is always considered part of a nefarious plot. Egypt buying arms from Russia presents a situation, one of the rare ones, which will make both countries happy.
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Aladdin, Egypt
10-11-2013 12:00am
What a gaff?
As FM you should not talk publicly about our nation policy. You should follow the standard diplomatic course and work out differences for the best interest of the nation. Please stop these nonsense.
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