Egypt’s overextended hand to Russia is draining us politically and economically. The “letters of intent” that we recently signed with Moscow are a reflection of the valueless, fake relationship between the two countries that our government is trying to revive for no apparent reason.
Two years ago, Egypt enthusiastically welcomed President Vladimir Putin to Cairo, with a large horse parade, Russian flags hoisted in Egyptian streets and many other extraordinary signs of celebration, in an effort to bolster and promote future relations with Russia. These efforts were apparently not sufficient to induce Putin to cancel the suspension of Russian flights to Sharm El-Sheikh that he ordered a few months later, after the tragic downing of a Russian plane above Sinai. Russia capitalized on this tragedy and maintained its policy of further pressurizing the Egyptian government, demanding the implementation of unnecessary airport security measures.
The Russian state is neither a global power, an influential player in the Middle East, nor an economic giant. Our government’s insistence on strengthening relations with Russia benefits only Russia — at the expense of Egypt’s sovereignty. Russia is not the same as the US, which has the capacity to operate in many regions and influence multiple nations; thus, it works on strengthening its relationship with a small number of nations that fully adhere to its political terms while dealing with the rest by maximizing its existing benefits.
Government’s insistence on strengthening relations with Moscow for no apparent reason benefits only Russia — at the expense of Egypt’s sovereignty.
The Soviet Union collapsed a few decades ago, re-emerging as a single nation that has adapted its geopolitics in keeping with its new capacity. Nevertheless, Egypt is, sadly, still influenced by the political thought pattern of the Soviet era; signing a mutual state agreement between two nations at the expense of the private sector in both countries, which could have done a better job. The publicity campaign that was organized to welcome Putin to Egypt indicates that we continue to pursue the same strategy toward Russia that has proven to be of no value. The fact that Russian tourists are not the most generous spenders, combined with their government’s continued resistance to resuming Russian civilian air traffic to Egypt, should have prompted us to explore other potential tourism markets. If the budget spent on the publicity campaign for Putin’s visit had been allocated to promoting our fabulous resorts in other countries, we would have gotten a better return on our investments.
The facts are that Egypt does not need a nuclear reactor (an opinion endorsed by numerous energy experts) and that many advanced nations are dismantling their nuclear facilities. Yet the Egyptian government continues to insist on swimming against the tide — a path that it is pursuing either of its own choice or that we are being dragged toward by the Russian state (we do not know which). In any case, as long as Russia knows that we are in severe need of its tourists, it will continue to work on politically squashing our country.
Aware of Egypt’s solid, long-lasting relationship with the US, the Russian state is quite careful in its dealings with our country. Playing the Russian card is more likely to harm than to strengthen our state. Russia had a previous unpleasant experience with Egypt prior to the October War in 1973, when former President Anwar Sadat expelled Russian military advisers from the country. It now wants to make sure that this unpleasant experience is not repeated.
Egypt needs to abandon the old stratagem of playing two superpowers against each other because, for better or worse, there has only been one world power for a few decades now. We have to do our best to strengthen our relationship with the Western world at large (clearly defined as the advanced, powerful nations) and with China (recognized as a global economic giant), while maintaining good relations with other nations — without burdening ourselves. Any other approach is based on an illusion that only we believe in.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.