Maintaining balance

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 22 Jun 2022

Despite the Ukraine crisis, Egypt is keeping good relations with both Russia and the US.

Maintaining balance
Al-Sisi addressing SPIEF via video


Egypt values its solid and historic relations with Russia and the tangible progress in those relations in recent years, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said last week.

Speaking via video link to the 25th Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), at which Egypt is this year’s guest country, Al-Sisi said relations between the two countries have reached “a distinguished level”.

It is no secret that since the war in Ukraine erupted on 24 February Egypt has been under pressure to downgrade its relations with Russia. An article in The New York Times last week claimed Washington has pressured Cairo to strongly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

President Al-Sisi told local media on 13 June that “the war in Ukraine has polarised the world into two camps, but we are trying to adopt a balanced line and not to take sides.”

In dealing with the crisis, Egypt is focusing on political and diplomatic channels and trying to find a non-military solution without taking sides, said Al-Sisi.

Egypt has “excellent relations” with both Washington and Moscow and since the crisis erupted in February it has been keen not to alienate either the US of Russia, says Al-Ahram political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb.

“Yet sections of the Western media, particularly in the US, are trying to portray Egypt’s good relations with Russia as evidence that Cairo, and indeed President Al-Sisi in person, are refusing to toe the American line on the war.”

Abu Taleb points out that Egypt is not the only Washington ally in the Middle East to adopt a neutral line on the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

“American Arab allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are not only adopting a similar line but appear keen to underline that they are maintaining friendly relations with Moscow,” he said.

In recent years Egypt and Russia have cooperated in implementing a number of major development projects, including the $26 billion Dabaa nuclear power plant and the creation of a Russian Industrial Zone along the Suez Canal. Russia is also the source of more than half the wheat Egypt imports annually, and Russian tourists to Egypt are a major source of revenue.

To boost economic cooperation with Russia, President Al-Sisi dispatched Minister of Industry and Trade Nevine Gamea to Moscow last week to meet Russian officials. Gamea held extensive talks with Anton Kobyakov, an economic advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which she said “we discussed cooperation in the field of tourism and I expressed hopes that Russian tourists will be back to the Red Sea resorts in Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada next July and August.”

Gamea also held talks with Alexander Avdeyev, governor of the Russian province of Vladimir Oblast, a leading producer of engineering equipment, agricultural and food machinery, organic fertilisers, glass, and wood.

“The meeting reviewed several joint cooperation proposals that aim developing trade and investment relations between Egypt and the province,” said Gamea.

Gamea also noted that Egypt has become the world’s biggest customer for Russian railway carriages and during her trip met with Kirill Valerevich, head of Transmash Holding, the world’s largest producer of railway carriages, to review progress in implementing a contract to supply 1300 railway carriages to the Egyptian Railways Authority. Half of the cars have already been delivered.

Earlier this month an Egyptian delegation travelled to Russia to visit Rosatom Company which is in charge of constructing the Dabaa nuclear power station. Russian officials told the delegation that the war in Ukraine had not delayed production and that the plants components would be delivered on schedule.

“Given the level of diplomatic contacts and economic cooperation we can conclude that Egyptian-Russian relations are strong and the war in Ukraine will not negatively impact the relationship,” says Abu Taleb.  

While hailing Egypt’s historic relations with Russia, President Al-Sisi also stressed the importance of Egypt’s partnership with the US. On 17 June, while addressing the Economic Forum on Energy and Climate Change Summit held virtually under the auspices of US President Joe Biden, he announced the launch of an Egyptian-US partnership to promote climate change adaptation in Africa.

While local analysts agree that relations between Washington and Arab allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE took a nosedive when Biden entered the White House in January 2021, “it now seems that the US administration has recognized their strategic importance to American interests, hence Biden’s decision to visit the Middle East next month and hold a summit with them in a damage limitation exercise,” says Abu Taleb.

President Al-Sisi, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Bahraini monarch Hamad bin Eissa held a summit in Sharm El-Sheikh on 18 June during which they said they welcomed the visit of US President Joe Biden to the region planned for next month.

A version of this article appears in print in the 23 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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