The Russians are coming

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 30 Jan 2024

The Dabaa nuclear power plant is a symbol of Russian-Egyptian economic collaboration, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Sisi and Putin in video conference
Al-Sisi and Putin in video conference


On 23 January, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin participated via video in a ceremony to mark the laying of the foundations of the fourth reactor at Dabaa nuclear power plant on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.

President Al-Sisi said progress on building the plant reflected the closeness of Egyptian-Russian economic cooperation and the efforts the two countries are making to push their strategic partnership forward. President Putin praised Egypt as a strategic partner and said relations between the two countries were based on equality and mutual respect. He added that a new phase began with the construction of the nuclear power plant in Egypt which was one of the most important joint projects between the two countries and its completion will contribute to the development of the Egyptian economy, promote the development of modern industries and strengthen Egypt’s energy infrastructure.

“In the past, Soviet experts launched advanced projects in Egypt such as the High Dam and established many companies and industries that continue to benefit the Egyptian people,” said Putin.  “Now we are here again, building another strategic project that will boost Egypt’s industry and energy sectors.”

Amgad Al-Wakil, chair of Egypt’s Nuclear Power Plants Authority, said presidents Al-Sisi and Putin were keen to witness the foundation of Dabaa’s fourth nuclear reactor in order to send two messages: to demonstrate their personal commitment to the project and to show that the strategic relationship between Cairo and Moscow had reached new heights.

According to Al-Wakil, the nuclear power plant will eventually cost $28.75 billion and is expected to generate net revenues of $264 billion over 60 years.

Alexey Likhachov, director-general of Rosatom, the Russian company building the plant, said Dabaa is the biggest project between Egypt and Russia since the High Dam.

“It is a landmark on the path of industrial and technological cooperation between Russia and Egypt. Dabaa is the first nuclear power plant of its kind on the African continent and will further secure Egypt’s regional technological leadership”.

MP Karim Al-Sadat, a member of parliament’s Energy Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the strong personal relationship between Al-Sisi and Putin was the driving force behind quick progress in the implementation of Dabaa project.

“It is clear that Russia sees its strong relations with Egypt as boosting its influence in Africa and solidifying its reputation in the world as a reliable partner for large-scale international projects,” he said.

According to a report by Eurasia Review, a Moscow-based research centre, the Dabaa project has spearheaded a 60 per cent increase in trade between Russia and Egypt since 2020. It said cooperation initiatives such as the Russian Industrial Zone in East Port Said and cooperation on updating Egypt’s railway network underscored the multifaceted nature of the countries’ economic partnership, creating job opportunities and promoting sustainable economic development in both states.

Gregory Borisenko, Russia’s ambassador to Cairo, hailed the growth in Egyptian-Russian relations since 2021.

“Close personal ties between the presidents of the two countries have pushed economic and trade cooperation between Egypt and Russia to new heights. Trade between Cairo and Moscow reached $6.2 billion in 2022, including $5.7 billion in Russian exports to Egypt, which makes it the largest trading partner for Russia in the Middle East and Africa and places Russia as the third most important economic partner for Egypt after the European Union and China.”

Borisenko pointed out that Russian companies, including Roseneft, Lukoil and Lada, have invested more than $7.4 billion in the Egyptian market and there are plans to invest another $7 billion in the Port Said industrial zone, creating 35,000 new jobs. Russia is also the largest grain exporter to Egypt, while agricultural products represent 80 per cent of Egypt’s exports to Russia.

Tourism is a growing market between the two countries. In the first six months of 2023, 750,000 Russian tourists visited Egypt. According to Minister of Tourism Ahmed Eissa, between January and August 2023 the number of Russian tourists to Egypt increased by 62 per cent.

“Western sanctions against Russia have not stopped Russian tourists from coming to Egypt,” he said.

The Russian market currently accounts for nine per cent of tourist arrivals to Egypt and plans are afoot to expand the capacity of flights between Russian cities and Egypt’s Red Sea resorts. Eissa said he is confident that by 2025 Egypt will host three million Russian tourists annually.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 1 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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