Egypt was one of the 141 countries, at the extraordinary meeting of the United Nations General Assembly held on March 2nd, which voted in support of the historical UN resolution to condemn Russia’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbor Ukraine. Egypt’s position came in conformity with the principles of the Egyptian leadership, which values preserving nation-state’s sovereignty and the non-interference in other state’s domestic affairs.
In addition, the Egyptian leadership must have made necessary calculations that made it favor siding with the western powers of Europe and the United States, in this global standoff, despite its recently signed treaties of friendship and strategic cooperation with Russia.
In October 2018, the Egyptian President, El-Sisi, and the Russian President, Putin, signed the Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation Agreement, with the purpose to enhance their reunion that has been building up since El-Sisi came to power in 2014. The purpose of the agreement is to strengthen cooperation in the political, economic, and cultural fields.
In the same month of signing this agreement, Egypt signed defense contracts with Russia, worth of two billion dollars, to purchase arms and ammunitions, including the Russian trademark Su-35 fighter jets. At that time, the deal provoked the United States Administration of President Trump, who accused Egypt of purchasing Russian weapons with US aid money. The United States gives Egypt an annual military aid, worth of US$1.3 billion, since signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.
Although Egypt was risking its long-term alliance with the United States to open a new page with Russia, Russia has never been a reliable partner for Egypt. For six years, between 2015 and 2021, Russia banned flights to Egypt in a way that negatively affected the tourism sector and doubled the economic suffering of the Egyptian people.
In addition, Russia stood with Ethiopia against Egypt in their long-term dispute over the Nile River, although Egypt has clarified that water security is a matter of national security and sought Russia’s help to mobilize the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to intervene to solve the dispute. However, instead, in July 2021, Russia’s representative at the UNSC condemned the Egyptian leadership for threatening Ethiopia not to proceed with filling the disputed dam, before guaranteeing Egypt’s share in the water of the Nile. That was a huge embarrassment and disappointment for Egypt.
In contrast, Egypt’s economic relations and interests with the European countries have been constantly growing, in the past few years. For example, Egypt purchased advanced military equipment from France and Germany, in addition to its economic and maritime deals with southern European countries, Greece and Cyprus. Meanwhile, Europe’s reliance on Egypt as a source for natural gas is also constantly growing, thanks to Egypt’s emergence, in the past three years, as a regional hub in the eastern Mediterranean for liquifying and exporting gas to Asia and Europe.
In the last quarter of 2021, Egypt officially started to ship cargos of liquified natural gas (LNG) to Turkey and southern Europe. In January 2022, for the first time ever, Egypt shipped LNG cargos to the Netherlands, in northwestern Europe. The current standoff between Europe and Russia is expected to enhance Egypt’s gas industry in impressive ways. Last week, Israel announced that it has begun exporting additional volumes of natural gas to Egypt, through the Arab Gas pipeline that passes across Jordan, for the first time.
In spite of these logic reasons that explain why Egypt decided not to side with Russia in this particular war, the official position of the Egyptian state came as a surprise to several Egyptian intellectuals and media commentators who spent days, since the beginning of the war, applauding Russia’s aggression on Ukraine and fantasizing about the return of the old days of the bipolar world order. Many of them are devout disciples of the Nasserist/communist era (1950s-1960s) and still believe that the defunct Soviet Union can return to life.
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