Egypt Seeking Military Support From Russia

November 14, 2013

The United States cut off arms shipments to Egypt several months after the Egyptian military launched a coup that removed the democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi. This move was not in reaction to the coup, but rather in reaction to the violent crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters and officials launched by the Egyptian military.

This week, Egypt appears to be moving forward with a plan to receive military support from Russia to at least partially fill this void. There are many analyses of this news available, but it is important to read this article, as it reflects distortions in the Russian media’s coverage of the story.

Below is a translation from the Pro-Kremlin ITAR-TASS. It states that the United States government cut aid to Egypt because the White House backed the Muslim Brotherhood (and makes no mention of the fact that the Obama administration refused to call what happened in Egypt a coup and waited until there was bloodshed in the streets to act). It also calls the military takeover of the government a “counter-coup,” which is perhaps the clearest distortion in the article. This article echoes the talking points of both the Kremlin and General Sisi’s administration. It’s also important to note that this is not an editorial, but a news story. – Ed.

According to Egyptian observers, the visit of Russian ministers of defence and foreign affairs to Cairo and holding bilateral talks in the “2+2” format is an event of extreme importance and almost reminiscent of the events of 60 years ago.

Then, desperate leadership of “Free Officers” headed by Gamal Abdel Nasser, who came to power and was unable to get the support of the United States, decided to seek help from the Soviet Union. The result was a long-term cooperation in the military-technical area, the construction of Aswan hydro power plant in Egypt and Egypt’s preparation for the war with Israel. This close co-operation lasted for about 20 years until President Anwar Sadat decided to completely turn away from the Soviet Union and pivot towards the United States.

Apparently, playing on the contradictions between the world powers remained a favorite “trick” of the Egyptian political elite. Now also, offended by the West, and especially by the United States that supported the “Muslim Brotherhood ” and refused to supply arms in the same volume, the military leadership of Egypt has decided to recall the long-forgotten past, and to use the “Russian factor” again. It is in this context that the visit of two Russian ministers, Sergei Shoigu and Sergei Lavrov, to Cairo should be considered, as well as the missile cruiser “Varyag” docked at the port of Alexandria. The press has also written about the possible purchase of Russian weapons worth $4 billion, provided that these supplies will be paid by one of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula.

History knows of paradoxical moves: to counter the growing threat of Iran and oppose rapprochement between Washington and Tehran, the Saudis in defiance of the United States are willing to pay for deliveries of Russian weapons to Cairo. It seems that all the countries of the Middle East are willing to play the “Russian card” in order to strengthen their own positions and to put pressure on Washington. In Cairo, this is taken very seriously. A high-level Egyptian delegation, that included among others members of the transitional government, have visited Moscow twice already.

This willingness to mend relations with Russia can be explained not only by short-term political considerations. The military led by General As-Sisi, who returned to power as the result of a counter-coup, must refresh the ideological base of the regime, and the only idea capable of uniting people in the face of Islamists is “Nasserizm”. It is intended to strengthen civic nationalism and to reject the one-sided orientation to the West. Interestingly, in the streets of Cairo there are posters where next to General As-Sisi there is Gamal Abdel Nasser, and only occasionally Anwar Sadat.

Although the official Cairo claims that the ties with the U.S. remain strong, and the visit of the Russian ministers does not mean making new alliances, Egypt seriously considers the resumption of military-technical cooperation with Russia. The parties are also close to a consensus on the major issues on the regional and international agenda, including the situation in Syria. In Cairo, they specifically point out the fact that the Russian ministers will be hosted personally by General As-Sissi, who is one of the initiators of the Russian-Egyptian rapprochement.