On Wednesday, the Russian foreign and defence ministers will arrive in Cairo as part of what many commentators argue is a new phase of Egyptian-Russian relations characterised by closer economic, military and political cooperation.
Increased cooperation would mark a return to the warmer relations that marked the Cairo-Moscow alliance in the past, particularly from the mid-1950s through to the early 1970s.
Egyptian-Russian, then Soviet Union, diplomatic relations were officially established on 26 August 1943.
The history of the relationship was captured in its early years through the lens of over ten photographers who worked for the official Russian news agency and whose "millions and millions of shots have provided us with a detailed history of this long friendship”, said Xenia Nikolskaya, a photo editor at the official Russian news agency, who had lived and worked in Egypt for over five years before moving back to Russia this year.
Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, during his official visit to the United Arab Republic, attends the festivities to mark the construction of the Aswan Dam. Egypt. 1964. (Photo: Valery Shustov)
“When we look at these endless volumes in our archives we find the official side which was certainly prominent, [including pictures of] Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Nikita Khrushchev, but we also see the pictures of cultural cooperation and of sheer human interest, with Russian photographers capturing the images of Egyptian workers constructing the High Dam,” Nikolskaya said.
A limited selection of a few hundred photos was made by Nikolskaya and other members of the photography team at the official Russian news agency and was put on display at a two day-event last August in Moscow that also offered visitors a look at other relevant material, including videos and newspaper cuttings capturing the key events in the long history of friendship between Egypt and Russia.
The pictures included many of the Nasser-Khrushchev encounters, including those related to the May 1964 diverting of the Nile to allow for the construction of the High Dam. There are also exceptionally rare shots of the first ladies of Egypt and the Soviet Union trying out ethnic headscarves, of prominent 1960s Egyptian cinema diva Nadia Loutfy signing autographs for Soviet women, and of actors Nour El-Sherif and Wagdi El-Arabi playing in the snow in Moscow.
The wives of Gamal Abdel Nasser, left, and Alexei Kosygin, right, try on scarves they were presented by the governor of the At Tahrir Province. Egypt. 1966.(Photo: Vladimir Malyshev)
“Today, when people talk about Egypt and Russia, or what was Egypt and the Soviet Union, they tend to talk only of one side of a multi-layered relation where culture played a prominent part,” Nikolskaya said.
Nikolskaya herself has dedicated a good part of her five-year on-and-off stay in Egypt to getting closer to Egyptian culture and heritage. She took photographs of the country's neglected architectural heritage and of traditional religious and social festivities, among others.
“At the end there will always be the element of human interest, and this is what relations between people are really about,” she argued. “And this is what many photographers are keen to capture.”
Most of the pictures included in the volumes are in black and white, with a few exceptions. It is, according to Nikolskaya, "a rare collection that documents the beginning of coloured photography."
“Unfortunately, we don’t have in our collection photos of the early years of relations with Egypt, but..[the collection does show] the peak of bilateral relations,” she said.
Blocking of the water of the River Nile during the construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt. 1964.(Photo: Alexei Goryachev)
Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers Alexei Kosygin, right, greets Anwar Sadat, left, president of the United Arab Republic on his visit to the USSR. Moscow. 1971. (Photo: Boris Yelin)
The construction of the High Dam of the Aswan Hydroelectric Power Station. Egypt. 1964 (Photo: Valery Shustov)
Cosmonaut German Titov, right, at Cairo Airport. Egypt. 1965. (Photo: Yury Somov)
Soviet actress Larisa Golubkina, right, and Egyptian actress Nadia Lutfi, Moscow. 1964. (Photo: Boris Kaufman)
Egyptian stage and screen actor Nour El-Sherif, right, walks in Moscow. 1984. (Photo: Galina Kmit)
Ahram Online extends special thanks to Xenia Nikolskaya and RIA Novosti news agency for providing us with this great material