Upsurge in Upheaval

The anniversary of the inauguration of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on June 30, 2013 was celebrated in the wake of an alarming situation. For several days, Morsi’s opponents shook Egypt with demonstrations against the President and his Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood*.

Back in June of 2013, millions of Egyptians took to the street to protest. With raging socio-economic problems in the country and growing political demands of the Egyptian people, Egypt’s armed forces, who previously enjoyed the public’s trust, were forced to reveal the true nature of their strength. On July 3, 2013, Egypt’s Minister of Defense, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, announced that President Morsi was successfully overthrown.

The Muslim Brotherhood managed to hold onto power for only a year. That period was far from beneficial for Russia-Egypt relations. On the one hand, Egypt has been one of the most important tourist destinations for Russians. Russia, in turn, has been Egypt’s main supplier of wheat, which is crucial for Cairo in terms of ensuring food security. On the other hand, back in 2003, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation recognized the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Additionally, there were clashing views regarding ways to solve the Syrian crisis. Morsi proposed to establish a no-fly zone over Syria, which would bring a crushing blow to Bashar al-Assad’s position in the country.

However, much has changed since July 2013. When al-Sisi became the country’s new president in 2014, Russia and Egypt entered a new stage in their bilateral relations. This stage is mainly characterized by attempts to intensify military-technical cooperation. There were reports from November 2013, revealing contracts between Russia and Egypt for military supplies totaling about $3 billion. For Egypt, this was particularly important, given that the US had suspended its weapons sales following the turbulent summer of 2013.

After the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, military-technical cooperation between Moscow and Cairo faced serious restrictions.

However, there have been reports of Ka-52 Alligator multipurpose attack helicopters being sent to Egypt for Mistral helicopter carriers. Arms supplies have been particularly important for Egypt in terms of fighting terrorism. Over the past ten years, the country has witnessed a large number of terrorist attacks. One of the largest was the Kogalymavia Airbus A321 passenger plane that had exploded while flying over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015. This incident marked perhaps the darkest page in the history of Russia-Egypt bilateral relations. 224 people were killed. For security reasons, Russia was forced to suspend air traffic with Egyptian airports; this ban was in effect for resort cities until the summer of 2021.

Russia finds the issue of international terrorism immensely concerning. In recent years, Moscow has supported Cairo in its fight against this threat. Since 2015, Russia and Egypt have repeatedly held joint military trainings in which they practice countering terrorist threats.

According to the Russian Foreign Policy Concept, Russia is interested in the formation of a sustainable comprehensive regional security structure in the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt, in turn, is trying to build balanced relations based on principles like the respecting sovereignty and non-interference of world powers (not only Russia, but also the United States, and China), as well as regional players.

From the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the situation in Libya, Russia and Egypt share similar positions on many issues on the region’s agenda. It is also important that Egypt favors restoring Syria’s sovereignty over all its territories, although Cairo has not restored diplomatic relations with Damascus yet.

Cooperation between Russia and Egypt in the energy sector deserves special attention. In 2015, Gazprom and Egyptian company EGAS signed a contract for liquefied gas supplies to be sent to Egypt. That same year, Russia and Egypt signed an agreement on the construction of the El Dabaa NPP, which is likely to remain a key project in Russia-Egypt cooperation for many years to come.

In 2018, an intergovernmental agreement on the establishment and conditions for Russia operating in the Suez Canal’s industrial zone appeared. The launch of this zone will open up additional opportunities for the supply of Russian-made goods to countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Despite the difficulties that Russia and Egypt will inevitably go through, there is no doubt that the partnership between Moscow and Cairo is special and holds strategic importance to both of them. Russia-Egypt relations will continue to develop as a mutually beneficial partnership.

* An organization whose activities are banned in the Russian Federation.

From our partner RIAC

Ivan Bocharov
Ivan Bocharov
Program Assistant at the Russian International Affairs Council