Egypt and the UAE

Gamal Essam El-Din , Sunday 3 Mar 2024

The Ras Al-Hekma deal marks a milestone in relations between Egypt and the UAE.

Al-Sisi with Bin Zayed
Al-Sisi with Bin Zayed


On 23 February, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli witnessed the inking of a direct investment deal with the United Arab Emirates, the biggest in Egypt’s history. Madbouli announced that Egypt and the UAE plan to build a new multi-billion state-of-the-art urban, business, and tourism centre at Ras Al-Hekma on Egypt’s North Coast.

The deal was welcomed by political and economic commentators in the two countries who said it will help mitigate Egypt’s foreign exchange crisis and cement ties between the two Arab countries.

In a TV interview Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris highlighted the importance of the timing of the agreement and its favourable conditions.

According to Emirati Minister of Cabinet Affairs Mohamed Al-Gergawi, it was the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, who laid the foundations for the strong relationship with Egypt and today, thanks to the current leadership of the two countries, relations have deepened and become more prosperous.


Relations between Egypt and the UAE date back to the 1950s and 1960s. President Gamal Abdel-Nasser was a major supporter of the liberation of the Arab Gulf from British occupation. Egypt sent thousands of doctors, teachers, and engineers to help build the Gulf states, many of whose citizens came to Egypt to study in Egyptian schools and universities.

In December 1971, a federation — the United Arab Emirates — was created between the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Um Al-Qaiwain, Ras Al-Khaimah, and Fujairah. The UAE’s founding father Sheikh Zayed forged a close personal relationship with president Anwar Al-Sadat and the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1972. In 1973, the UAE backed Egypt in its war with Israel. Sheikh Zayed offered $1 billion in assistance to buy weapons and after the war, the UAE was among the Arab Gulf countries that helped reconstruct the cities of Suez, Ismailia, and Port Said. To mark the alliance, Sheikh Zayed city was built near Suez.

President Hosni Mubarak maintained the close relationship with Sheikh Zayed, and then with his successor Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed. The two countries signed 18 economic and commercial agreements between 2000 and 2008, as well as a memorandum of understanding exempting holders of diplomatic and special mission passports from visa requirements.

By 2010, the UAE was the largest Arab investor in Egypt, with investments worth $1.4 billion.

Political relations between Egypt and the UAE strengthened following the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Ahmed Abaza, head of parliament’s Arab Affairs Committee, said that the UAE’s opposition to radical Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood led it to stand behind Egypt following Morsi’s removal from office, since when it has become Egypt’s closest ally.

“When President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi came to office in 2014, relations between the two countries reached new political and economic heights,” said Abaza. There was close coordination between Cairo and Abu Dhabi on developments in Palestine, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon, and “close coordination combating terrorism and extremism”.

The post-30 June Revolution period also saw significant developments in military and economic relations between the two countries. In 2015, the UAE was an active participant in the Sharm El-Sheikh economic conference, in the course of which Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the UAE, announced a package of $4 billion in financial support to Egypt, half of which was deposited in the Central Bank of Egypt to shore up foreign exchange reserves, and the other half invested in development projects.

“We support Egypt not only because we love Egypt and can never forget its role in liberating and developing the UAE during the 1950s and the 1960s but also because our founding father Sheikh Zayed instructed his sons to stand behind Egypt at all times,” said Sheikh Rashid.

Bilateral relations extended to include military and security cooperation.

Khaled Tantawi, a member of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee, points to the way President Al-Sisi has consistently stressed that Egypt’s national security is part and parcel of the security of the Gulf region in general and the UAE in particular.

“This is reflected in the annual joint military exercises the armed forces of Egypt and the UAE hold under the name Zayed 2,” said Tantawi, and by the keenness of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, who became UAE president in 2022, to attend the inauguration of Egypt’s Mohamed Naguib military base on the Mediterranean Sea in 2017 and the Berenice military base on the Red Sea in 2020.

In October 2022, Egypt and the UAE celebrated the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations under the slogan “Egypt and the UAE: One Heart”.

“The Ras Al-Hekma deal advances cooperation between the two countries and their shared attempts to achieve a prosperous future for their peoples,” said Minister of Planning and Economic Development Hala Al-Said.

Figures released by the UAE’s Ministry of Cabinet Affairs report the volume of non-oil trade between Egypt and the UAE reached $4.9 billion in 2022.