Egypt-Russia relations reach new heights in Ukraine war aftermath
As more western countries turn their backs on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, its relations with Egypt, with whom it celebrated 80 years of ties this month, have grown stronger.
Over the past year, as Egypt contended with record inflation, a dollar crunch and an import slump, its trade with Russia, which grew by 60 per cent to reach $6 billion in 2022, has been a lifeline for the Arab world’s most populous nation.
After Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s reception of a senior Russian delegation on Sunday, several decisions were announced which strongly suggest that relations between Cairo and Moscow are reaching new heights of amicability.
While ties are expanding in many sectors, one example of the increasingly cordial relationship is in education, when on Wednesday, Russia’s education ministry said it had reached an agreement with Cairo to offer Russian as a second language at Egyptian schools and universities, according to TASS.
The Egyptian education ministry confirmed the agreement though it did not say which academic year the programs would be ready for.
First equipment for Al Dabaa nuclear plant
Another critical area of co-operation is energy.
The first shipment of equipment needed for the construction of the Al Dabaa nuclear power plant, currently being built by Russia on Egypt’s north coast, arrived from St Petersburg this week.
The industrial equipment, which comprised a melt trap for the plant’s main reactor, was received at a ceremony at the plant’s grounds on Tuesday night.
A melt trap is a conical steel container which in the event of an emergency locks the reactor’s radioactive matter inside so it does not seep into the environment.
On Monday, while speaking at the international parliamentary conference Russia-Africa in a Multipolar World, Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed Moscow’s readiness to share technology with its African partners.
“We will continue helping African countries in the production of electricity, where the continent is only meeting a quarter of its needs,” he said, according to Russia’s Tass state news agency.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing war has given the country near-pariah status for most western countries who have, in turn, imposed strict economic sanctions that have made Moscow seek a stronger relationship with African and Arab countries, many of whom did not join the western sanctions because of their reliance on Moscow in key sectors.
Russian industrial zone in Suez Canal
The Russian and Egyptian delegations at Sunday’s meeting agreed to establish a Russian industrial zone in Egypt’s Suez Canal region.
Both sides “reiterated mutual commitment to the further development of bilateral relations in various spheres”, according to a statement by Egypt’s presidential spokesman Ahmed Fahmy.
The plan, according to the statement, is for both sides to co-produce a wide range of goods and for Russia to lend its expertise to Egypt which, through the partnership, hopes to localise its industries to reduce its reliance on imports.
Further “co-operation in the sphere of grain and food supplies in light of the global crisis” was also discussed by Mr El Sisi with the Russian delegation, Mr Fahmy’s statement said.
Egypt imported 4.9 million tonnes of Russian grain in 2022, according to data published by the Russian embassy in Cairo.
Cairo’s reliance on Russian grain is expected to continue throughout 2023, a January statement from Egypt’s state grain buyer said.
Analysts have also said that after announcing its exit from the UN Grain Trades Convention, Egypt will look more to Russia to meet the grain needs of its 104 million population.
Egypt’s accession to Brics bank made official
Additionally, on Wednesday Egypt was officially announced as a new member by the Brics New Development Bank, which finances infrastructure development projects in Brics member states and developing countries.
Although its accession to the bank was approved in 2021 and it was given status as a member on February 20, Egypt’s accession to the bank had not been officially announced until Wednesday.
The Brics block has widely been touted as a challenge to US and European hegemony on the global level, a position that constitutes an essential cornerstone of Russia’s foreign policy.
As Moscow’s tenuous relationship with Europe and the US soured after its invasion of Ukraine, it maintained strong ties with Egypt, which remained largely neutral in its stance on the war.
After pressure from its western allies, Egypt joined the 140 countries that signed a UN petition in March last year condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Despite the condemnation, Cairo was vocally not in favour of sanctions because of the consequences for its own economy, which relies heavily on Russian wheat, tourism and other commodities including metals, minerals and pharmaceuticals.
Boosting tourist numbers
However, western sanctions might have been unintentionally beneficial to Egypt which this year witnessed a 181 per cent increase in Russian tourism, which decreased by 99 per cent to the EU and Britain in the same period.
In light of this increase, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov, who was part of the delegation that met Mr El Sisi on Sunday, said that both countries are ready to increase flights between them to accommodate the rising demand from Russian travellers.
Russia banned flights to Egypt after an aircraft bound for St Petersburg crashed in the Northern Sinai region soon after taking off from Sharm El Sheikh on October 31, 2015. All 224 people aboard were killed.
The Egyptian branch of ISIS said the crash was caused by a bomb smuggled aboard the aircraft.
Egypt to pay for Russian imports in roubles
Both sides are currently studying a mechanism through which Egypt can pay for Russian wheat and other imports with roubles instead of dollars.
Analysts have said that this could be beneficial to Egypt, whose economy is heavily reliant on dollars.
As the Egyptian pound has continued to lose value against the dollar over the past year, by more than 50 per cent, it has looked for more affordable means of securing its many imports.