Putin on the Nile: an Isolated Russia Seeks friends in Egypt w/ offer of Nuclear Plant

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | –

President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation paid a state visit to Cairo on Tuesday, consulting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on a range of economic and foreign policy issues. The meeting was seen by many observers as underlining the desire of Egypt to become less dependent on the United States, and the desire of Russia to find new friends at a time its Ukraine policy has made it a pariah in Europe.

Al-Sisi told the Russian press that in the immediate aftermath of the July 3, 2013 ‘revolution’ Egypt wanted to develop its foreign policy. Among the bilateral issues al-Sisi raised with the Russians were these:

He got an agreement with the Russians whereby they will build a nuclear reactor in Dabaa in the northwest of the country. Egypt does not have much in the way of coal, trees or natural gas. In fact, solar energy makes more sense for Egypt than does nuclear, but apparently it is having trouble raising international funding for solar panels.

On Syria, al-Sisi warned of the dangers of Muslim radicalism. His fear of the Muslim Brotherhood and of the radical Muslim groups in Syria has led him to a de facto complaisance toward the Bashar al-Assadi regime, which aligns him more or less with Putin on this issue. When I was in Egypt last year, I read with astonishment a column in an Egyptian newspaper by a disciple of the president of Baathist Syria, Bashar al-Assad, which argued that authoritarian government could be successful.

Al-Sisi encouraged Russian tourism and investment, assuring his audience that Egypt is now secure. Tourism, a major earner of foreign exchange, accounts for 11 percent of the economy; some 10 million tourists came in 2014, up 64%. Some 3 million of them, nearly a third, were Russians. Earnings also improved somewhat in the past year (to $7.5 bn), but is still only 60% what it was in 2010 ($12.5 bn.). Al-Sisi is likewise eager for Russian investment monies to flow into Egypt.

Both Egypt and Russia in this trip were seeking to diversify their foreign policy so as to escape American hegemony.

This winter and spring, Russian tourists are being exempted from paying the $25 visa entrance fee, in recognition of the hardships the Russian public is enduring from the steep decline in the value of the ruble. Egypt is also exploring having Russian tourism packages paid for in rubles rather than dollars. Egypt could then use the rubles to import goods from Russia. this move is mainly driven by a desire to keep the Russian middle classes coming to Egypt on vacation, at a time when a weak ruble makes that trip much more expensive if denominated in dollars.

Some tourists are spooked by the violence in the Sinai Peninsula because several important resorts are located in that area, for instance at Sharm El Sheikh. To have Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) in the same neighborhood as their resort is nervous-making for tourists. Russian holiday-makers in Egypt typically prefer the Sinai resorts or those on the Red Sea, being interested in beach and surf rather than, for the most part, in Pharaonic antiquities. Al-Sisi’s overthrow of a Muslim Brotherhood government has made him unpopular in the Sinai Peninsula and has turned Some frustrated fundamentalists toward terrorism.

Related video:

RT: “Russia to build Egypt’s first nuclear plant, help in ‘whole new industry’: Putin visit achievement”

14 Responses

  1. Dear professor Cole

    So it needs to come with a bloody good Air Defence system to avoid the chappies next door bombing it. The siting of the nuclear station then becomes subject to the need for good fields of fire for the SAM.

  2. I’m glad you are covering this important story, Professor Cole. Still some of the rhetoric surprises me. You wrote:

    “the desire of Russia to find new friends at a time its Ukraine policy has made it a pariah in Europe”

    I’m astonished. This is the language of mass media: Putin = pariah. Second, it isn’t even true. Ex-French President Sarkozy recently emphasised France/Europe is a “part of a common civilization with Russia” (in distinction from the US). Sarkozy also said “Crimea can’t be blamed for choosing Russia.” Current French President François Hollande has suggested several times lifting sanctions on Russia: “The sanctions must stop now“. In gratitude, it appears a false flag attack on the Charlie Hebdo was orchestrated (part of the new Operation Gladio). Its close proximity after the French vote in favour of Palestinian statehood on the UN Security Council is more than suspicious. To follow cui buono reasoning, that attack would have been a CIA/Mossad joint operation.

    On the German side, Chancellor Merkel has said weapons must not be shipped to Ukraine and German foreign minister has spoken out against sanctions repeatedly. Greece, Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic are all against further sanctions and even continuing the current sanctions (only just strong-armed into agreeing to continue the current ones).

    I’m physically located in Central Europe. Despite the incessant war mongering of the international (read American/Anglo) media and their local agents, there is a great sympathy for the Russians and their President Putin. The closest thing to pariah around here are the would-be nazis in the Ukraine who have seized power. Your mileage may vary in Poland and Lithuania, but those two countries have been nipping at Russia’s heels since the thirteenth century. To suggest Polish-Lithuanian views represent the bulk of Europe would be a deliberate misrepresentation.

    To blindly parrot falsehoods and rhetoric from the mass media does not enhance the credibility of any independent voices. Not even yours.

    Hopefully Egypt won’t suffer one of the same unfortunate accidents as France did after diverging from Imperial policies.

  3. Living in Russia is only acceptable if you have the prospect of getting out of it on vacation. To take these steps to keep Egyptian vacations affordable, Putin is trying to keep the lid on rising frustration.

  4. Brilliant move on Putin’s part. He diplomatically lifts a US ally, while luring Israel to start yet another war with a neighbor. US foreign policy will fall apart if our “special friend” starts World War 3. Our relationship with Israel is already tearing the stability of US politics asunder as it is.

    • But that alliance could have gone much further in the last 15 years. Mistrust is preventing the Shanghai Co-Operation Organization from becoming anything as tight an alliance as NATO. I think China mistrusts the competence of Putin’s oligarchs, and Putin rightly fears Russia becoming a resource colony of China’s hardworking billion. Putin could have sold all his gas & oil to China, but he kept trying to build pipelines to serve Japan and also tried to make Europe dependent on his gas. Sounds like someone who wanted leverage more than alliance.

  5. What happened when you bring two isolated countries together? I think Sisi’ days are numbered if the U.S and Israel feel that their interests are challenged in the region. Who would want to use rubles, even Russians use dollars!!!

  6. What will Saudi Arabia do to counter Putin’s latest move? After all, Putin is a big supporter of both the Shia countries in the Middle East, Iran and Assad in Syria.

    Russia, Iran, Syria and China vs. the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and NATO. Two different alliances similar to the ones leading up to WWI. I hope no one lights a match.

      • I can see number of disturbing developments happening.

        Ukraine in 2015 is a powder keg like the Balkans were in 1914. Putin will only abide by the cease fire if it works to his advantage which means eastern Ukraine is probably gone like Crimea.

        Israel and Saudi Arabia don’t want to see a nuclear deal with Iran. Bibi and the Republicans will turn up the heat starting with his speech next month..

        Saudi Arabia wants to see Assad gone but they also want to put some real PAYBACK on Iran and Russia for supporting him. 200,000 or so Sunnis have been killed. Why else wouldn’t they cut their oil production to try and keep prices from falling 50% in the past six months?

        ISIS really isn’t that big of a player, but Obama’s latest move can be used to send troops to hotspots wherever Washington thinks they are needed at some future date. It’s a purposely vague authorization.

        • ISIS or any other violent group doesn’t need to be a big player to be the trigger for another mass disaster. Gavrilo Princip was just a bit player in Yugoslavia’s nationalist movement but he pulled the trigger that is credited with igniting WWI.

  7. Egypt was firmly in the Soviet sphere after Nasser’s coup in 1952-56 – the Soviet Union funded the Aswan high dam, for example. This relationship lasted until Sadat expelled Soviet advisors in 1972. Also – Egypt was in a formal union with Syria from 1958 until 1961. Given both these historical linkages, it’s not surprising that the current regime is renewing them, perhaps as a hedge against US/Israeli regional hegemony.

  8. They helped with a huge dam before also arming them, perhaps some bad advice. Once upon a time there was Nasser and the Arab League. What is new here?
    The USA would love a regional hegemony; Why not Israel based exactly? Why not bring Lebanon into the equation?

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