Why Egyptians have a pro-Russian bias
A large segment of Egypt’s population seems to be more pleased with the outcomes of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s visits to Russia than with those of his trips to the United States. Much of this Egyptian attention was reflected recently in the warm reception given Sisi by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Many Egyptians have fond memories of bygone days of close cooperation between both countries, when the former Soviet Union was at the peak of its power and Egypt at the top of its regional influence.
Moscow still sees Cairo as an important centre in the Middle East and relies on it to complete the next steps of Russia’s ambitions in the region following its intervention in the Syrian crisis.
The next steps may be in Libya or elsewhere. In any case, Russia seems to believe that having Egypt on its side and coordinating strategies with it are important to stability in the region and a guarantee for Russia’s dominance of a major segment of the natural gas market intended for Europe.
Although Moscow has in recent years forged close relations with many countries in the region, nostalgia seems to be attracting Russia’s leaders towards Egypt specifically.
This nostalgia has strategic dimensions first but is closely related to Russian prestige. Moscow cannot forget the expulsion of Soviet experts from Egypt during the era of President Anwar Sadat, who was clearly leaning towards the United States. Let’s not also forget that Moscow is seeking to regain its world prestige and winning Cairo’s trust may constitute a triumphant return at this level.
The rise of Sisi in Egypt and Putin in Moscow did help thaw ice that had enveloped Russian-Egyptian relations for some time. Both men share military backgrounds and it can be said that there is a political chemistry between them. This aspect is playing a major role in bypassing previous bitterness between the two countries and in preparing for solid future relations.
In Egypt’s reading of global developments, Russia is the balancing force for US power and might come in handy. Russia has been waiting very patiently for the opportune time to move and has followed the strategy of making two steps for each step Egypt makes. Knowing by experience the pragmatic sense of the Egyptian leadership, Moscow was not above using legitimate blackmail.
Thus, the agreement on the construction of the Dabaa reactor in Egypt was reached only after Cairo gave Russia a 30% share in exploiting the Zohr gas field.
When a Russian passenger plane was downed over the Sinai desert in October 2015, the influx of Russian tourists halted. They have only recently resumed visiting the country but only after Moscow received Egyptian assurances, which indicates a high degree of bilateral political and security understanding.
Many signs confirm Cairo’s emotional and political bias towards Moscow at Washington’s expense. Obviously, Cairo’s previous balance equation in its relations with both sides has shifted in favour of the first side, even though Russia, like the United States, manages its foreign relations with a high degree of utilitarianism and self-interest.
The United States has never concealed its blatant support for Israel and has openly acted to ensure the latter’s strategic superiority in the region. Russia is trying to show discipline in dealing with Israel and in its position on the delicate issues in the Arab world. It, for example, adheres to the international laws supporting the existence of a Palestinian state.
Because the Palestinian cause, despite the failures it has suffered, remains an open wound that is very difficult for any Arab leader to bypass, international attitudes towards it will be the psychological and political criterion that determines Arab attitudes towards major world powers.
In addition, the Egyptian military establishment prefers Moscow over Washington even though much of the military equipment and weapons used by the Egyptian Army came from America. Many Egyptian military officers have been trained in Russia and the Russians have shown a greater flexibility than the Americans regarding training opportunities, supplying spare parts and even providing up-to-date weaponry. Obviously, the Egyptian military establishment is pleased with that.
Like other Arab countries, the Egyptians give a lot of importance to the psychological aspects of international politics. They hate haughty attitudes and tend to favour those who treat them as equals, even if just out of courtesy. In their thinking, the Americans remain associated with Western domination.
Egyptians and Arab countries, in general, are sensitive to human aspects because they are in line with their customs and traditions. Knowing this, the Russians make sure to offer Arab leaders a warm welcome. This is another reason why Egyptians share a pro-Russian bias.