General Mohamed Zaki, commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and minister of defence and military production, paid a four-day official visit to Russia last week.
A statement released by the Ministry of Defence said that Zaki, leading a high-profile military delegation, attended the seventh meeting of the Egyptian-Russian Joint Military Committee. The committee is tasked with fostering military cooperation between Cairo and Moscow.
According to the Russian news agency of TASS, Zaki told the committee that “Egypt wishes to take military cooperation with Russia to a new level.”
“The progress in military cooperation achieved over a short period of time confirms that we are on the right track. We greatly desire to continue boosting this cooperation in all directions and in the spirit of mutual trust between us.”
Zaki added that the political leadership of the two countries wants to reinforce the longstanding relationship between the peoples of Egypt and Russia.
“This is particularly important in light of the threats posed by deteriorating international security,” said Zaki. He stressed “the pressing need to restore stability and security to the Middle East”, and the importance of “rejecting all forms of meddling with the internal affairs of its countries”.
TASS reported that Zaki and Russian Minister of Defence Sergey Shoygu reviewed military and security developments on the regional and international scenes, discussed existing military cooperation and the exchange of expertise, and agreed on the importance of conducting joint military exercises between the Armed Forces of both countries.
According to TASS, Shoygu said Moscow has a strong desire to enhance all aspects of military cooperation with Egypt, saying “Egypt is a pivotal country in the Middle East and plays a prominent role in combating terrorism and supporting security and stability in the region.”
The Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation Agreement signed between Russia and Egypt in Sochi on 17 October 2018 came into effect earlier this year.
While he was in Moscow, Zaki attended the opening of the International Military and Technical Forum (ARMY 2021), part of the International Army Games 2021, inaugurated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which will continue until 6 September. Some 286 teams, consisting of 5,000 military personnel from 42 countries, are participating in the event. Egypt is taking part with four teams.
According to a Ministry of Defence statement, “Egypt’s army participation comes as part of the General Command of the Armed Forces’ keenness on developing the performance of military personnel and exchanging expertise.”
Egyptian-Russian relations are progressing on multi-pole fronts. Early in August a high-level Egyptian technical delegation, led by Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy Mohamed Shaker, visited Russia to discuss the building of Egypt’s Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant (DNPP). In the same month direct flights between Russia and Egypt’s Red Sea resorts of Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh resumed after a six-year ban, imposed by Moscow following the downing of a passenger plane carrying more than 200 Russian tourists over Sinai, was lifted.
Initially, it was agreed that flights would operate five times a week between Moscow and Hurghada, and Moscow and Sharm El-Sheikh. TASS reported on 26 August that the plan is to increase flight numbers to 60 a week in September, and that “the decision came after a Russia Covid-19 advisory panel visited Egypt, assessed the epidemiological situation, reviewed the preventive measures at tourist sites, and expressed satisfaction.”
Nora Ali, the head of parliament’s Tourism Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the resumption of direct Russian flights to the Red Sea represents a $2 billion boost for Egypt’s tourism industry.
Before 2015 Russia was the leading market for Egypt’s tourist sector, a major foreign currency earner.
MP Sahar Talaat Mustafa, the chair of the Egyptian Russian Business Council, issued a statement saying the return of direct flights between Russia and Egypt’s resorts was the fruit of a long period of cooperation the between Russian and Egyptian authorities.
Egypt’s national carrier EgyptAir is expected to run 10 weekly flights, helping to ferry the 10,000 Russian tourists expected to visit Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh each week, said Mustafa.
“Russian tourism is very important for Egypt and its economy which explains why the Egyptian authorities has worked so hard to regain the confidence of Russian tourists,” she added.
Meanwhile, a delegation of Russian businessmen and investors and officials from the Russian Ministry of Industry and Commerce arrived in Egypt on Monday to review progress on the Russian Industrial Zone in the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone). The visit follows the 29 June signing of an agreement to expand the Russian industrial zone in the SCZone.
SCZone Chairman Yehia Zaki said on Monday that under the new agreement the Russian Zone will expand to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna. The first phase of the project includes an extension of one million square metres in East Port Said and 500,000 square metres in Ain Sokhna, work on which is scheduled to begin by the end of this year after. The project, revealed Zaki, “will include a mix of heavy and light industries and provide Russia with a gateway to Egyptian, Arab and African markets”.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly