Egypt Might Have Condemned Russia Over Ukraine Op But That Won't Harm Ties, Says Professor
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Moscow has become one of the most reliable Egyptian partners and supplies the North African country with wheat and weapons while playing a pivotal role in the construction of its nuclear reactor.
When Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine on 24 February, Egypt tried to remain neutral.
It issued a statement about the situation but failed to mention Russia. It urged the two sides to maintain a dialogue and convened an emergency meeting of the Arab League to discuss the issue.
Good Ties with Everyone
Dr. Said Sadik, a professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo, explains this stance by the close relations Egypt has with both sides of the conflict.
"Russian and Ukrainian tourism in Egypt is important. In [the resorts of] Sharm Al Sheikh and Hurghada they form almost 70 percent of the total amount of tourists. Both are an important source of wheat and corn, whereas Egypt is number one in wheat imports," he explained.
But their cooperation goes far beyond that. In 2014, when A-Sisi just came to power, he aimed to stabilise Egypt's security that had been ripped apart by various radical groups.
In order to fight extremists, he turned to the United States and asked to provide it with ten Apache helicopters but Washington torpedoed the request, citing potential human rights violations.
A-Sisi has since vowed to stem Ciaro's reliance on American arms, buying weapons from France and Germany instead.
Russia has also provided the North African nation with fighter jets, attack helicopters, and other military equipment. The two nations have also conducted a number of joint military drills. They coordinated many of their actions on the situation in Syria and Libya, and Moscow has played a pivotal role in the construction of Egypt's nuclear power plant.
This is why risking that cooperation by siding with the Americans on the Ukrainian issue is out of the question but Sadik says the pressure applied on Cairo was too intense.
"On 1 March, the US ambassador to Cairo, as well as those of other G7 countries and the European Union, called on Egypt to issue a 'clear and unanimous condemnation' of Russia," explained the analyst.
"They warned that Russia was trying to destabilise the international order and that it will have repercussions for the Middle East and Africa, including Egypt," he added.
Egypt has been receiving generous economic and military assistance from the US since 1979, when it signed a peace deal with Israel. Although that money constitutes only a small fraction of the country's GDP, the North African nation does not want to lose it. This is the reason why America's pressure has finally yielded results.
7 February 2022, 06:41 GMT
On 2 March Egypt voted in favour of condemning Russia at the United Nations General Assembly. It also called on Moscow to withdraw its forces from Ukraine.
At the same time, Cairo has so far declined any attempts to drag it into sanctioning Russia, but Sadik suggests his country is now not afraid of the potential backlash.
"Washington needs Egypt too," said the expert indicating that the military assistance to his country would not stop coming from the US. "The US considers Egypt as an important ally outside of NATO. Our Suez Canal, the coordination on Gaza, the security of the Red Sea and other regional hotspots remain very important points of cooperation."
However, if Washington's pressure does not change Cairo's position on sanctions, public pressure might still do the trick, just as it did in many countries around the globe.
Since the launch of Russia’s special military operation, Arabic-language social media has been largely divided. Some have supported the West and the Ukrainians, while others argue they instigated the conflict. However, Sadik says the discourse is unlikely to influence Egypt's decision-makers.
"Public opinion has no influence [over A-Sisi]. The President has built his legitimacy and popular support by emphasizing economic progress. So [the President] is cautious not to entangle the country in any conflict and avoids to be dragged into this conflict."