In the melee of international politics, much is openly discussed and publicised while much more goes unsaid and is left to observers and analysts to rationalise. The issue I today tackle falls among the ‘unsaid’ category, and concerns the relationship between Egypt and each of the poles of global politics, the United States and Russia. It is no secret that Egypt’s relations with these two countries have undergone considerable change since the Egyptian people’s revolution on 30 June that led to the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime. These changes induced Egyptians, myself included, to reassess their appreciation of the two great world powers. Public wrath at the stance of the US and its allies against the people’s revolution reached shock level, whereas Russian understanding warmed the hearts of Egyptians.
Even though the Egyptian public made no secret of their sentiments, the Egyptian administration exercised self-control and did not reciprocate western hostility; all the time sparing no effort to explain to the world that the change in Egypt was the outcome of the will of the people. It also effectively nurtured the rapprochement with Russia, calling to mind the Egyptian-Russian close relations during the 1960s and 70s. Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy summed it up when he said that Egypt would always attempt to retain old friends while working to acquire new ones.
So much for the well publicised aspects of the issue. As to the unsaid part, I found myself stopping before an event that could not have been fortuitous, since international relations—especially under the current Egyptian administration—are not trifled with. Among the most recent moves on the international front, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab went to Washington to represent Egypt in the US-African Summit, whereas President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi headed to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin. Washington hosted Africa’s heads of State, and President Barack Obama effectively represented his country, meeting with all the presidents and the Egyptian Premier.
The Egyptian President, however, has met President Putin for talks about Egyptian-Russian ties and prospects of future cooperation, as well as the vital changes in the Middle East and their impact on the safety, stability and security of the region.
This obvious difference in the manner Cairo dealt with Washington and Moscow respectively captured my attention. I repeat, this cannot be coincidental. It appears to relay a significant message Egypt is sending to both countries and to the world at large. The US’s wholehearted support of the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt in 2011 which brought the Islamist MBs to power, and its subsequent antagonism towards the revolution that overthrew the MB in 2013, seriously called to question US credibility and interests. The result was complete loss of faith with America on part of the Egyptian public and administration. The once substantial US-Egyptian strategic relations nosedived.
Contrary to the American stance, Russia offered Egypt staunch support on all levels: political, military and economic. The Russian administration unfailingly stood by the Egyptian revolution and the will of the people, and offered to help Egypt out of the downturn it had suffered in the wake of the Arab Spring. This worked to quickly revive the old close ties between both countries, and Egyptians warmly welcomed Russia’s support. They put in the Russian administration the confidence that they had withdrawn from the US, aspiring for renewed friendship and partnership.
It is also by no mere chance that the strategic shift in Egypt’s foreign relations has coincided with the announcement of a number of national mega projects that herald in an Egyptian renaissance. The Suez Canal Project tops the list; it is no less in grandeur and magnitude than the Aswan High Dam which the Russians helped Egypt build in the 1960s. The new project involves the deepening and reinforcement of the current canal, the digging of a parallel waterway, and the establishment of state-of-the-art logistics and commercial centres alongside the canal. It is expected to be the kiss of life for the Egyptian economy, and Russia could support and aid Egypt realise it.
Is it clear why Mahlab went to Washington and Sisi to Moscow?
17 August 2014