It is gratifying that Egypt will be represented by one of the largest delegations comprised of key politicians, leaders of business and mass media, and distinguished public figures.
Such a wide representation is no coincidence. Egypt has always been an essential political and economic partner for Russia in Africa. It is hard to overestimate our cultural and people-to-people ties. Moreover, it is a great honour for us to welcome our Egyptian friends in Saint Petersburg because it was your country and personally His Excellency President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi who provided invaluable support in organizing the first Russia-Africa Summit which was held in 2019 in Sochi with Egypt being the event’s co-president.
Since a long time ago our nations have been drawn to one another. The mysterious land of the pyramids has absorbed, as the famous Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz put it, the heritage of many civilizations. It has always attracted and inspired the Russian people. This year, on 26 August, we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. On 9 March, during a phone conversation, the presidents of Russia and Egypt congratulated each other on this milestone which we have already started to commemorate with a series of events.
It is quite symbolic that the development of our dialogue started during the acute phase of the Second World War, when the whole world united to stand against enslavement and annihilation by Nazis. During those rough times, Egypt served as a transfer point used by the Soviet Union to return our POWs from Western Europe. Our soldiers’ stay in Egypt contributed to the establishment of friendship between our peoples, which remains up to this very day.
The dawn of the Russia-Egyptian dialogue occurred during the third quarter of the 20th century after the 23 July Revolution in 1952, led by Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Moscow strongly supported the nationalization of the Suez Canal. The Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev even threatened Great Britain, France and Israel with nuclear weapons, warning against military intervention in Egypt and against plotting a coup d’état in the country friendly to us. President Nasser on his part refused to join any Western regional alliance.
In the 1960s, Soviet specialists worked shoulder to shoulder with Egyptians and created the unique Aswan High Dam, a steel factory in Helwan and other crucial facilities, which helped Egypt to industrialize and to make a quantum leap in social and economic development.
Comprehensive development of our bilateral ties continued after the disintegration of the USSR. With the start of the presidency of His Excellency Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, such positive and intensive dynamic of the Russian-Egyptian cooperation strengthened even more. Its sound foundation was reinforced by the Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation Agreement which entered into force in January 2021.
The key joint mega-project today is the first Egyptian Nuclear Power Plant at Dabaa, which is being constructed together with the Russian Rosatom State Corporation. The works there are ahead of the schedule. Right now, the preparations are under way to pour concrete for the last of four units of the station, the construction of which may start by the end of this year. Director General of Rosatom Alexey Likhachev visited Egypt on 18 July and inspected the construction site with the Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy Dr. Mohamed Shaker and Dr. Amged El-Wakeel, chairman of the Nuclear Power Plants Authority of Egypt.
As previously agreed, the Russian Industrial Zone (RIZ) is being created in the Suez Canal Economic Zone. An additional protocol to the initial agreement on the RIZ specifying the details of its functioning was signed in March. A share of goods produced there shall be sold on the Egyptian market, but the bulk will be exported overseas with the “Made in Egypt” label. For Egypt, this would mean an increase in exports along with the creation of additional job opportunities and new modern technologies. After the protocol is ratified by the Egyptian parliament, the project is expected to start being implemented, meaning that this will be the starting point for the construction of necessary infrastructure – factory floors, storages, roads, etc.
In spite of the Western sanctions, the obligations under the contract with the Egyptian National Railways for the delivery of 1,300 railway cars of different types by the Russian Transmashholding Company have been fulfilled. In 2020-2022, Egypt received half of its order which was to be produced in the Russian city of Tver. The rest is to be provided by Hungarian partners, to the deepest regrets, with a delay due to the EU restrictions imposed against us which has severely slowed the supply of spare parts from Russia to the Hungarian factory. Moreover, Transmashholding is additionally planning to build and equip a specialized rail depot near Cairo to conduct maintenance of all previously delivered passenger cars which have been named “Russian” by the Egyptians.
Our country is also committed to fulfilling its contractual obligations to the Arab Republic of Egypt regarding the provision of food supplies and other agricultural commodities. Egypt is a major importer of wheat and other products of the Russian agro-industrial complex. During the last agricultural year which started on 1 July, 2022 and ended on 30 June, the volume of wheat received by the Egyptians amounted to eight million tonnes, whereas earlier it usually did not exceed six million tonnes. We are also completely satisfying Egypt’s requests for sunflower oil and soybean oil.
470 Russian companies with investments of more than $8 billion are currently operating in Egypt. Notably the number of our businessmen who are interested in Egyptian partners and are ready to buy their products is growing steadily.
Russia and Egypt share a high level of political trust and coordination. We are actively cooperating at the United Nations and other international organizations. Our countries maintain active contacts on different levels and in various fields.
Historically cultural and humanitarian ties are the basis of such friendly relations between the people of the two countries. Back in the 1960s, the practice of student exchange between Russia and Egypt was born. This practice has been significantly developing during the last ten years. Today Egypt is in the list of top ten countries with the students choosing our country with regards to getting the higher or the second higher education. Nearly 16 thousand Egyptian students are currently studying in Russia, and some of our higher education institutions are about to open branches in Egypt with university majors varying from medicine to peaceful atomic studies. Religious ties are also getting stronger including the creation of the Patriarchal Exarchate for Africa by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Egypt has always served as a muse for the greatest Russian poets and writers. In 1828, Alexander Pushkin, inspired by the history and culture of Ancient Egypt, wrote a poem called “Cleopatra”, which was included in the collection of poems Egyptian Nights. At the beginning of the 20th century, the land of pyramids attracted poets who were searching for the meaning of life. The land of the pharaohs was visited by Nikolai Gumilev, who later wrote the poems The Suez Canal, Red Sea and Egypt. Ivan Bunin, after his visit to Egypt, published a series of poems - Delta, Alexander in Egypt, Cairo, Exodus.
Moreover, there is a separate movement in Russian art - called “Egyptising style” which is based on the use of plots and art images of Ancient Egypt. A large number of landmarks, built in such a style, can be seen in Saint Petersburg, where the Russia-Africa Forum takes place. It is the Egyptian bridge over the Fontanka River and the Egyptian hall in the Hermitage as well as the tenement house of Alisa Nezhinskaya on Zakharyevskaya street and many other architectural monuments.
We hope that our Egyptian friends, who are about to visit the Russian northern capital will enjoy its rich culture and unique beauty.
Welcome to Russia!
*The writer is the ambassador of Russia to Egypt