Thursday,18 January, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)
Thursday,18 January, 2018
Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Tangoing with Russia

Reem Leila reports on the strengthening economic ties between Moscow and Cairo

Tangoing with Russia
Tangoing with Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s one-day visit to Egypt saw the signing of a contract to begin construction of the Dabaa nuclear plant, discussions to establish a Russian economic zone in Egypt and talks on regional matters of mutual interest including the latest developments in Syria and the repercussions of the US decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. 

The visit did not, as some had anticipated, include an announcement of the end of Moscow’s two-year ban on flights to Egypt, though Putin lauded efforts made by the Egyptian authorities to secure airports. 

“Security agencies have reported to me that we are ready to restore a direct air link between Moscow and Cairo,” said Putin, though he gave little indication of any timetable beyond saying an agreement could be reached in the near future.

Russian news outlets quoted Russian Transport Minister Maxi Sokolov saying that commercial flights between Moscow and Cairo might be resumed in February though no mention was made of flights to Sharm El-Sheikh.

The two presidents held a one-on-one meeting at Al-Ittihadeya Palace before a joint press conference which saw the signing of a document that will kick-start construction of the Dabaa nuclear power plant.

Egyptian and Russian ministers signed a $25 billion loan deal to start work on four nuclear reactors which are expected to be completed by 2028. The loan will cover 85 per cent of the value of the contract. The remaining 15 per cent will be funded by Egypt.

A later meeting which included official delegations from the two countries discussed setting up a Russian industrial zone in the Suez Canal Economic Zone as well as a logistics centre for Egyptian exports in Russia. 

Putin hailed recent increases in trade between Egypt and Russia which now exceeds $4 billion and affirmed Moscow’s determination to continue to enhance economic ties. 

“Increasing Russian investments and opening more Russian projects in Egypt will provide great job opportunities for young people,” says Aliaa Al-Mahdy, a professor of economics at Cairo University. She argues that boosting trade could also help encourage the return of Russian tourists, once a major source of income for Egypt’s tourist industry.

During the press conference Putin said he expects Russian investments in Egypt to rise to $7 billion. 

Putin’s visit to Cairo came as part of a wider tour of the Middle East which took in Syria and Turkey. 

Political analyst Hassan Nafaa says the one-day trip reflects deepening ties between Cairo and Moscow. 

During the 1950s and 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, Egypt became a close ally of the USSR. During the 1970s president Anwar Al-Sadat opted to move closer to Washington, a process that gained momentum after the US brokered the Camp David peace treaty in 1979. 

“Putin’s visit signals Moscow’s appreciation of Egypt’s regional weight and its understanding that it needs to coordinate and consult with Cairo now that Syrian stability has become so very important,” says Nafaa.

“Under Al-Sisi Egypt has been able to maintain close ties with both Russia and the US. But the question of resuming flights between Egypt and Russia remains unsolved after Putin’s visit, a significant setback for Egypt.” 

Former assistant foreign minister Hussein Haridy points out “the visit comes after Egyptian-Russian relation have been enhanced, most notably by Cairo and Moscow agreeing to a reciprocal arrangement that allows their warplanes to use bases in both countries.”

Though Egypt is keen to build economic, commercial and technological ties with Russia, it is also committed to maintaining strong ties with the US, says Haridy.

Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayed, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo (AUC), says Putin left Cairo leaving many loose ends. Even the Dabaa agreement, he says, mainly addressed intentions and “no final agreements or contracts have been signed.” Negotiations on the Russian industrial zone which is meant to be established in Egypt are ongoing and nothing firm has been decided yet. 

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