It was an attempt to revive a long-broken relationship that, sooner rather than later, will culminate in an even longer estrangement – one that will be clear-cut and unambiguous. Our country may end up paying a high price for seeking to revitalize its relations with Russia in response to the downturn in United States-Egyptian relations. Indeed, Russia has been sending Egypt a clear signal; playing the role of substitute for the United States comes at a higher price than expected.
Over the past few years, Egypt has decided to develop a nuclear power plant for peaceful uses. Quite apart from the question of the feasibility of building a nuclear plant, (I personally reject the idea as a matter of principle, regardless of whether Russia is the best choice of country to install and operate the plant safely – which I don’t have a clue about), the decision for this kind of development has major political connotations. Egypt’s principal objective in selecting Russia for this deal was to revive an old, fragile relationship – an extremely high price to pay for restoring an inevitably short-lived affiliation!
In fact, Russia is not the partner that Egypt should rely on for completing long-term projects, nor is it a country with which it is worth forging closer ties! Its overreaction to the downing of the Russian plane in the Sinai in October 2015 is proof that Russia plays politics at the expense of its own innocent citizens who lost their lives in this tragedy and, obviously, to the detriment of Egypt’s tourism industry. Given that Russia has maintained its relationship with other countries that experienced similar terrorist attacks on its people, its claim that it is protecting its citizens’ safety is patently ridiculous.
Russia wants to squeeze Egypt to the maximum prior to resuming its tourist flights to Sharm El Sheikh, which Egypt desperately needs. The Russian regime took advantage of President Al Sisi’s eagerness to rebuild a constructive relationship with Russia to place added pressure on Egypt. Al Sisi was mistaken in trying to compensate for the decline of over four decades of solid and crucial relations with the United States by strengthening relations with Russia – which, in turn, doubted the sincerity of the president’s attempts to reinstate the relationship and reacted quite recklessly to the Egypt’s efforts.
President Al Sisi’s attitude regarding strengthening Egypt’s relations with other nations is somewhat hasty. He would do well to consider slowing down his approach, particularly with regards to Russia. While it is certainly a strong regional player, Russia does not wield any influence beyond its territories. Due to political instability, Egypt, which used to be a regional influencer, has lost its edge in recent years – but it can easily regain its leverage. On the other hand, aside from its involvement in the Syrian war, Russia does not have any footprint in the Middle East. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Egypt is currently offering it on a silver platter.
Furthermore, bureaucracy and corruption are common denominators in both countries. Strengthening our relationship with Russia, especially for the development of a crucial project such as the nuclear plant, may result in having more of what we need to get rid of. Meanwhile, Russia suspects Egypt of trying to reinstate it as a new international partner only temporarily – to fill the gap created by the deteriorating relations between Al Sisi and Obama. Nevertheless, President-Elect Trump’s explicit expression of support to Al Sisi should prompt the latter to revisit his political overtures vis-à-vis Russia.
The Egyptian-Russian relationship is extremely vulnerable and may be perceived as the reparation of a relationship between a flailing state and a confrontational nation. Egypt needs to expand and develop its relations with advanced nations who can share their technology and universal values. Russia is certainly not the most advantageous choice of long-term partner for Egypt to rely on. What we must do today is to call off the assignment to Russia of the building of our peaceful nuclear plant. Additionally, Egypt needs to gather its internal national forces before rushing to re-establishing a new, fundamental international relationship, which is often realized at the expense of Egyptian citizens.