Will Egypt Replace Its Gulf Partners With Russia To Revive Its Economy

Russia’s Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said at a meeting of the Council for Strategic Development that Egypt is ready to expand the Russian industrial zone near Port Said from 80 hectares to 2,000 hectares in the future

Manturov said,”Egypt’s Al-Sisi has decided to allocate 80 hectares to us in the eastern part of Port Said on Suez Canal. In prospect, they [Egypt] are ready to expand this zone to 2,000 hectares.” The Egyptian-Russian relations have flourished recently as Egypt’s relations with Saudi Arabia – its major Gulf financial supporter – declined. The Egyptian regime supported Russia’s stance in the United Nations regarding the Syrian crisis when it voted in favor of the Russian resolution despite its divergence from other Arab countries, which greatly criticized the Egyptian regime.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN Abdullah al-Mouallimi condemned Egypt’s vote in favor of the Russain resolution and described it as a “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 that of 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 absurd to present an anti-resolution that was approved by only four countries.”

Later, Saudi Arabia halted its oil supply to Egypt and strengthened its relations with Russia on both the commercial and military levels. On the commercial level, Egypt opened its market widely to the Russian imports in an unprecedented way. Egypt allowed wheat imports from Russia after it withdrew from its zero ergot policy when a trade dispute occurred between both countries. A trade dispute had erupted 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, then, announced it will temporarily suspend imports of fruit and vegetables from Egypt from September 22. However, the Egyptian government announced that it was 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 lifted the ban previously imposed on Egyptian fruits and vegetables. 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 .

This is the first time that Egypt  imports such commodities from Russia.

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 decision as a step towards improving the political relationship between Egypt and Russia. Samir Sweilam, president of the Meat Importers Association, said that the government wants to pave the way for enhancing its relationship with Russia. He believes that Egypt would not utilize this decision immediately as Russia is not self-sufficient in meat and poultry and it already imports its needs of meat and poultry from different countries.

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 excellent 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.

On the military level, Egypt and Russia held their first ever joint military exercise in mid-October.

According to Russia Beyond the Headlines, 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 werw 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 to 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.