Egypt looks east to expand its diverse foreign relations
Egypt’s foreign relations suffered a serious crisis in 2013, when countries with major regional influence, including the US and important EU countries, supported the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, the Egyptian state tried to gradually heal this rift and mend the ties tattered by the Muslim Brotherhood’s views through two approaches: The first included attempts to correct the negative image some countries had of Egypt, while the second involved establishing strong relations with other powers, especially in the east, such as Russia and China.
Egypt attempted to employ the first approach several times, but the major events that took place in many of the region’s countries significantly shook the image of the world’s great powers. This was especially true of the US, which supported political Islamic organizations in the region but did not express a clear position on either the Syrian crisis or on the Palestinian cause, and subsequently transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a move denounced by Egypt at the UN General Assembly.
The old bridges of trust between Cairo and Washington were shaken, especially with the disputes that erupted between them every now and then.
Egypt started using the second approach and reached out to Russia after the June 30 Revolution. This move produced close and sustained military and economic cooperation between the two countries. The relations between Cairo and Moscow started very strongly, suggesting that there would be a strong return to cooperation in all fields, especially in the fight against terrorism, from which Egypt has been suffering since the fall of Muslim Brotherhood rule, and in supporting Egypt’s economy, which seeks to rise from the recession. This cooperation started with the signing of a number of trade and military agreements and major economic projects, including the establishment of Russian industrial zones in the East Port Said and Suez Canal economic zones.
The new Egyptian state wanted to look east for cooperation and the promotion of visions that contribute to mutual development.
Russia invested in major projects in Egypt, the most important of which were the El-Dabaa nuclear power plant and the Russian free zone in East Port Said. These projects added to the size of the trade exchange between the two countries, which was about $6.7 billion in 2017, while the number of Russian projects in Egypt reached 363, most of which were in the tourism and services sectors.
However, the bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai, which killed 224 passengers in October 2015, still affects relations between the two nations. In the wake of the attack, the Kremlin halted all flights between Russia and Egypt and warned its citizens against traveling to Egypt. Recent meetings have solved part of this crisis, but not all flights have yet been resumed.
Egypt has always been keen to enjoy diversity in the fields of political cooperation and investment. The West was not the only target for the new Egyptian state, as it also wanted to look east for cooperation and the promotion of visions that contribute to mutual development.
But why Asia? The answer is obvious: Not only is Asia the world’s largest and most populous continent (with its inhabitants accounting for 60 percent of the world’s population), but it has also become the locomotive of global economic growth (Asia-Pacific accounts for 44 percent of the world’s gross domestic product).
China is undoubtedly a model for this close cooperation. Beijing has established itself as a development model for many developing countries, especially in its ability to achieve high growth levels and lift millions of people out of poverty. In terms of economic relations with Egypt, which is the gateway to the Middle East and Africa for its Belt and Road Initiative, China’s direct investments currently stand at about $7 billion.
In the financial sector, a report released by the Economic and Commercial Counselor’s Office of the Chinese Embassy in Cairo in mid-2018 said that the Central Bank of Egypt signed in December 2016 with its Chinese counterpart a three-year currency swap deal worth 18 billion yuan ($2.5 billion).
The report also showed that Chinese financial institutions have actively cooperated with Egyptian banks to create new financial products.
As for the infrastructure sector, China has implemented a 500kV transmission line project for Egypt’s public network, in addition to signing a deal to establish a $1.2 billion electric train project in 10th of Ramadan city, which will be the first electric train in Egypt. Furthermore, a Chinese company has signed an agreement worth $3 billion for the construction of the Central Business District in Egypt’s new administrative capital.
Meanwhile, Egyptian-European relations were not at their best after the June 30 Revolution, but they have gradually improved. The post-June 30 ministers did not hesitate to meet with members of the European Parliament, despite constant attacks on Egypt, in order to explain to them Cairo’s point of view. The president’s efforts were also obvious after his numerous visits to several European countries to promote political, economic and security partnerships, especially on issues that concern both sides, such as the immigration crisis and the threat of terrorism.
We have not forgotten that the former president of France, Francois Hollande, attended the inauguration of the new Suez Canal, nor have we forgotten that German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Egypt in March last year. We will also not forget the Egyptian-Greek-Cypriot alliance and the close cooperation among these three countries in the extraction of gas from the Mediterranean Sea. These alliances were established between equals, making Egypt a strong, proud country in its relations with the countries of the world.
• Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide.