Egyptian-Russian Rapprochement

Egypt’s policy shifts and closeness towards Russia have been traced recently by observers. After al-Sisi military coup in 2013 against Egypt’s democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian-Russian relations have flourished on different levels.

Motivated by overlapping interests, both countries tried to gain benefits from one another. Al-Sisi regime was seeking legitimacy from western powers and at the same time he was trying to widen his military armament sources through importing weapons from Russia, marking a likely shift in Egypt’s arms imports.

On the other hand, Russia seeks to have a role in the Middle East filling the gap resulted from US downgraded presence in the region.

However, the recent days have witnessed ups and downs in the Egyptian Russian relations, but their results infer that were just political maneuvers between both countries to gain more interests in the end of the bargaining process.

Egypt opens its market widely to the Russian commodities

After the wheat crisis between Egypt and Russia that the Egyptian government opened its market widely to the Russian imports.

Last month, Russia a trade dispute escalated after Egyptian quarantine inspectors rejected a 60,000-tonne Russian wheat shipment due to problems related to Cairo’s policy over the ergot fungus. In response, Russia announced it will temporarily suspend imports of fruit and vegetables from Egypt from September 22.

However, the Egyptian government surrendered by declaring that it has been agreed to return to the old policy which allows the international standards up to 0.05% of ergot-infection in imported wheat shipments. Afterward, Russia lift the ban previously imposed on the fruits and vegetables.

In addition, Egypt opened its market widely to the Russian imports in an unprecedented way.

In this context, Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation approved 13 slaughterhouses in Russia to start importing meat and poultry on 7 October, as reported by Daily News Egypt.

The step is a first, as Egypt has never imported similar commodities from Russia before.

According to the ministry’s announcement, the step comes amid efforts to increase trade between both countries following Russia’s lift of the ban on importing Egyptian agricultural products.

Experts see the approval as a step towards improving the political relationship between Egypt and Russia before the economic one.

Samir Sweilam, president of the Meat Importers Association, said that the government wants to pave the way forwards in its relationship with Russia. He believes that this is “one of the ways” Egypt would not utilize immediately, because Russia already imports meat and poultry from different countries.

Sweilam said that Russia cannot export what it already needs, explaining that Russia is not self-sufficient in meat and poultry.

According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, Russia imported animal products for $12.7bn, of which 33.4% were meat products and 6.8% were poultry products.

Mohamed Ryhan,a member of the butchers division at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, said “Brazilian meat and poultry have the best quality at the best prices.”

He noted that Brazilian animal food products are of premium quality, adding that it is the first time for him to hear that Egypt would import meat or poultry from Russia.

First Joint Military Cooperation between Egypt and Russia

Russia and Egypt are to hold their first ever joint military exercise in mid-October.

According to Russia beyond the headlines (Russian news media), experts believe that training in preparation for an anti-terrorist operation “in a desert environment” is a demonstration of the capabilities of Russia’s rapid-response forces amid the ongoing conflict in Syria, as well as evidence that Cairo, in case of the deterioration of the situation, is counting not only on Washington, but would also like to enlist the support of Moscow.

Russia Defense Ministry announced that paratroopers’ joint exercise in Egypt will involve six airfields and 15 aircraft and helicopters for various purposes, as well as 10 combat vehicle. In mid-October, Russian airborne troops will be sent to the north of Africa on an Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft.

In this context, Vladimir Isayev- a professor of the Institute of Asia and Africa at Moscow State University- said that this scenario is more than relevant for Egypt as part of the territory of Egypt, in the north of the Sinai Peninsula, is no longer controlled by government forces, and Cairo is no longer able to count on Washington’s support in this matter, he pointed out.

According to Isayev, if the terrorist organizations that are operating in Sinai will try to expand the territory under their control, the army would like to count on Moscow’s support.

“It is unlikely that it is paratroopers that will participate, but as for the Russian Aerospace Forces, it is quite likely,” he said.

In the same context, retired Colonel Viktor Murakhovsky said that Moscow and Cairo has been recently building a very close and trusting relationship.He said,”This is evidenced by the purchase by Egypt of France’s Mistral helicopter carriers with pre-installed Russian equipment, which were originally destined for the Russian army.

In addition, according to experts, Moscow is demonstrating its ability to form expeditionary groups at short notice and transfer them to the desired area, as reported by the Russian media.

Murakhovsky said, “It’s worth considering the proximity of Egypt and Syria. “Russia shows that, if necessary, it will be able to deploy a sufficient number of its troops, which are part of the reserve of the Supreme Command and belong to rapid-response forces.

Egypt follows Russia’s political agenda in Syria

Egypt’s delegation in the security council voted in favor of the Russian resolution, a situation that raised concern among Saudi Arabia- Egypt’s major Gulf ally.

The Egyptian regime has supported Russia’s stance in the United Nations regarding the Syrian crisis, despite its divergent from other Arab countries which has caused major criticism to the Egyptian regime.

A s a result, Saudi’s ambassador to the UN Abduallah al-Mouallimi condemned Egypt’s vote to the favor of the Russain resolution and described it with the “painful” stance. After the voting, al-Mouallimi said,”It was painful that the Senegalese and Malaysian stance was closer to the Arab’s consensus than the Egyptian delegation.”

He also said that he feels pity for these countries that voted to the Russian resolution, stressing that his country will continue in backing the Syrian people by all means. Al-Mouallimi continued saying,”It was an absurdness series to present an anti-resolution that didn’t have except four approvals.”

Egypt has announced in various occasions its stance towards the Syrian conflict which aligns in fact with Russia’s agenda and clearly divert from Saudi Arabia’s stance.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has recognized that there are differences with Saudi Arabia regarding Syria, stating the reason is that each country has “different visions regarding changing of the Syrian leadership

Shoukry’s comments came at the at the annual UN General Assembly meetings in New York,as he said,”Saudi Arabia adopts a position that focuses on changing the ruling system of government or to change the Syrian leadership. Egypt does not adopt this idea.”

Shoukry’s remarks were widely reported by Egyptian newspapers, noting that he also said: “We estimate that all the developments in the Syrian arena must lead to a new Syria that meets the desires of all…sides.”

He avoided giving a direct answer to a question related to the removal of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, saying that “this is a Syrian issue and we do not have to link everything to a certain person and waste our time expecting what would happen if he was removed.”

When he was asked whether the Syrian situation has deteriorated after it had been on the verge of a possible solution following the US-Russian brokered ceasefire that collapsed, Shoukry said: “Of course, there was a glimpse of hope after the American-Russian understanding to halt all hostilities.

“But the situation on the ground, increasing terror, mergers between terrorists and the opposition such as what happened with Al-Nusra Front (Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham), the targeting of the Syrian army [by US airstrikes] and the targeting of humanitarian aid convoys (by Russia) undermined the understanding and pushed us into a vicious circle.”

Accordingly, Egypt declared in both an implied and explicit way being closer to the Russian stance regarding the Syrian crisis.