Is Russia trying to pull Egypt away from the US?
Russia looking to enhance ties with Egypt
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had a phone call on Monday where they touched upon several topics, including means of boosting Egyptian-Russian relations, particularly in terms of economic, industrial, and energy cooperation.
El-Sisi and Putin also exchanged views on the latest developments concerning the establishment of the Russian industrial zone in eastern Port Said.
In July, the Russian authorities and Egypt’s Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone) signed a preliminarily agreement to expand the Russian industrial zone in the Suez Canal.
The final agreement is expected to be signed before the end of the year, according to a previous statement by SCZone Chairman Yehia Zaki.
The Russian zone, under the new agreement, will be extended to eastern Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square metres.
El-Sisi expressed his appreciation for the long-standing Egyptian-Russian partnership, saying it has culminated with the conclusion of the comprehensive strategic partnership agreement signed between the two countries.
The two leaders signed the partnership agreement during a bilateral summit in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi in October 2018.
The move, El-Sisi said, “opened new horizons for bilateral cooperation in many fields and joint projects.”
Putin, on his part, affirmed his country’s keenness to continue to “promote the fruitful and close cooperation between the two friendly countries,” Rady said.
The Russian president also highlighted his keenness to foster regular coordination and consultation with the Egyptian president regarding various regional and international issues.
Furthermore, Putin expressed his appreciation for the regional and international efforts exerted by President El-Sisi.
These efforts “strengthened the political paths for settling crises in the region, a matter that has consolidated Egypt’s role as the centre of gravity for maintaining peace and security in its surrounding region,” Putin added.
Moreover, he added that Russia is keen to continue intensive cooperation and coordination between the two countries in this regard.
Issues with US-Egypt relations
Egypt has for decades been considered a linchpin in the US’s Middle East policy due to Cairo’s influence in the Arab world, control over the crucial Suez Canal, and the country’s land border with the Gaza Strip. But Egypt’s relations with the US have weakened with the advent of the Biden administration. Nevertheless, the US intends to maintain its relations with Egypt despite initial promises to reduce its support for the latter due to human rights concerns, similar to the US’s shift in stance towards Saudi Arabia.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry last week started a round of “strategic dialogue” in Washington that they say will address bilateral ties, human rights and a multitude of regional issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At a news conference alongside Shoukry on Monday, Blinken said diplomats from Egypt and the United States would “cover a wide range of issues” during two days of talks on Monday and Tuesday, including the military takeover in Sudan and efforts to revive the nuclear deal with Iran.
The top US diplomat also lauded Cairo’s role in mediating a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza in May.
“Making tangible and lasting improvements on human rights is also essential to strengthening our bilateral relationship, and the United States will continue to support those efforts,” Blinken told reporters.
The dialogue came as human rights groups urged the Biden administration, which pledged to put human rights at the centre of US foreign policy, to take a firmer stance against Egypt over the country’s human rights record. Rights groups have accused the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who came to power in a 2013 military coup, of jailing tens of thousands of dissidents and outlawing virtually all forms of political opposition. Cairo has denied holding political prisoners.
On Monday, Blinken welcomed Egypt’s National Strategy on Human Rights, a long-term plan that the Egyptian government launched earlier this year, which has been received with scepticism by many rights advocates.
For his part, Shoukry said it ultimately would be up to the Egyptians to decide the “political, social and economic system” that ensures their welfare.
“We also believe that human rights are an interdependent whole, which necessitates that we dedicate equal attention to political rights and civil liberties, and economic and social rights,” the Egyptian foreign minister said.
“This is an evolutionary process unique to each country, one that reflects and takes into consideration its social specificities, developmental realities, religious background and cultural characteristics.”
Egypt still largely dependent on the US
Egypt’s opening towards Russia in recent years does not mean that Egypt intends to shift away from the US. Egypt is still heavily invested in its relationship with the US and the US’s closest ally Israel, but the relationship is becoming increasingly economic in nature and less geopolitical as Egypt attempts to mark its own geopolitical path with diversified ties.
The U.S. Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Ministry of International Cooperation announced seven bilateral assistance agreement amendments on November 1 worth $125 million. This investment demonstrates continued support from the American people for joint U.S.-Egypt priorities, including education, health, trade and investment, governance, agribusiness, scientific research, and women’s empowerment.
U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen said, “Today’s announcement of $125 million in economic assistance from the United States to Egypt builds on the U.S. Government’s $30 billion investment in Egypt over the last 40 years, which has brought clean water and wastewater services to 25 million Egyptians, eliminated polio, spurred entrepreneurial activity, preserved historic sites, provided thousands of university scholarships, built thousands of schools, and trained over 100,000 teachers.”
For her part, Minister of International Cooperation H.E. Dr. Rania A. Al-Mashat stated that the Government of Egypt applauds the strategic and historic cooperation with the United States of America, which strengthens and supports the government’s efforts to achieve Egypt’s Vision 2030 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); and to push forward the private sector’s engagement. Al-Mashat further referred to Egypt’s leadership in green transformation and climate action; noting that the government is making strides in economically empowering women, such as launching the Gender Gap Accelerator. The Minister added that these two fields represent a good opportunity for widening the horizon of future cooperation with the United States Agency for International Development.
Egypt has also taken up the role of mediating between Hamas and Israel, in an attempt to display its geopolitical importance in the Middle East.
Israel and Egypt are in talks over a new proposal for a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas, which could see to Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers returned from the Gaza Strip.
Israeli and Egyptian officials are working on drafting an agreement, which includes new solutions for issues Israel is concerned by. Hamas representatives are also part of the intensive talks between the parties.