On March 26, presidential elections started in Egypt, with the incumbent president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi challenged by Mousa Mostafa Mousa, leader of the El-Ghad (‘Tomorrow’) party. According to Valdai Club expert Nourhan El-Sheikh, al-Sisi’s most important achievement is pushing Egyptian-Russian relations to an unprecedented level of strategic partnership, paving the way for a strategic alliance between the two countries.
It is said that “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Russia has always been Egypt’s natural ally whenever it has been in need. In June 2013, at a critical moment in the Egyptian history, when Egypt stood firmly against terrorism supported by the West and its allies, Russia backed Egypt greatly. That led to a dramatic shift in Egyptian-Russian relations after a period of decline along the two years of the Muslim Brotherhood’s governance, as the latter is considered a terrorist group in Russia since 2003. This breakthrough in Egyptian-Russian relations is notable in many fields.
First, it is the strategic partnership between the two countries. Moscow has been always an important partner for Egypt. The past four years have witnessed great development in Egyptian-Russian strategic cooperation. At a time when the United States stopped military support for Egypt after June 30th, Russia gave a hand and has supported Egypt in its war against terrorism. Terrorism is a common threat to both Egypt and Russia. The vision and attitudes of the two countries concerning combating terrorism as well as their lists of terrorist organizations are almost identical. As the once vast “caliphate” of ISIS in Iraq and Syria crumbled, it was forced to rely more on other franchises, like the one in Sinai, to spread its tactics of sectarian strife. That gives new aspects to security cooperation and coordination between Egypt and Russia. The elimination of terrorism in Egypt has become a requirement for maintaining Russian achievements in Syria and the stability of the whole Middle East and, accordingly, securing the southern neighborhood of Russia.
During the visit of Russian defense minister to Cairo in November, the two sides agreed on mutual use of airspace and airports in fighting against terrorism, stressing the importance of intelligence and security cooperation and exchange of information. Russia is also ready to provide Egypt with advanced technologies and defense systems, as well as modernizing the Egyptian military industries built during the Soviet era.
Second, is the technical cooperation. Russia has a major development role in Egypt. Actually, it was the Soviet Union which established the industrial base of the Egyptian economy. Egypt is launching a number of mega projects in cooperation with Russia, the most important of which is the construction of the first Egyptian nuclear power plant in El-Dabaa. The project consolidates a century ahead of strategic cooperation between the two countries. The Egyptian-Russian Industrial City project is another mega one that will add much to the Egyptian economy, especially in the field of industries that feed the automotive, aircraft, computer and electronic industries. Egypt will serve as a Russian corridor for African and Middle Eastern markets concerning those industries, as it has free trade agreements with preferential terms with the countries of North Africa and Middle East.
Perhaps the most important achievement of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi during his presidential term is pushing Egyptian-Russian relations to an unprecedented level of strategic partnership. That paves the way for a strategic alliance between the two countries. It is true that Moscow’s steps towards Egypt have been stronger and faster than those of its Egyptian counterparts. But Sisi was able to make decisions concerning the relations with Russia, which his predecessors did not have enough courage to take.
More steps are needed to move these plans and dreams into the real world, and prevent bureaucracy from squandering the opportunity to launch such a great alliance. It is also important to exploit the warm feelings between the Egyptian and Russian peoples in launching cultural and social umbrellas which are needed to ensure the continuation of the alliance against any political fluctuations.