Countering ISIS: Russia and Egypt can strike back
It’s quite clear that Egypt is looking to end its historical dependence on the U.S.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin received a high-level welcome in Cairo last week. Putin is the first leader of a major power to visit Egypt since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s arrival into power. At the same time, it is the Russian leader’s first foreign visit in 2015 and the second visit to Egypt as president. The previous visit took place 10 years ago, in April 2005, when Egypt was still under the rule of Mubarak. As for Sisi, he visited Russia twice in 2014.
During the talks, the two sides have signed several agreements to reinforce military and economic ties. A deal to help Cairo develop nuclear power capacities was also signed. It should be noted that Egypt ended its nuclear program in 1980 after the Chernobyl catastrophe and the Egyptian intention to relaunch it was declared by Hosni Mubarak in 2006.
By beheading the Coptic Christians, ISIS has thrown down a challenge not only to Egypt, but to Sisi personallyMaria Dubovikova
It’s quite clear that Egypt is looking to end its historical dependence on the U.S. and to move forward. This is perhaps because the U.S. has created a vacuum of power, influence and cooperation. Despite the fact that the U.S. provides Egypt with $1.5 billion in aid, including $1.3 billion in military assistance, the data provided by the Pew Research Center reveals that the favorable perception of the U.S. in Egyptian society has reached a historical minimum having dropped to 10 percent (in 2014).
The U.S. stance on Sisi’s arrival into power following the overthrow of Mohammad Mursi and its tough politics and oppression of the Muslim Brotherhood was stringent. Russia, suffering either from external pressure following the Ukrainian crisis, needs Egypt as a key strategic partner. Among other issues, the sides discussed the possibility of excluding the U.S. dollar and using national currencies in bilateral trade instead. This move is not aimed to harm the U.S., but to strengthen national currencies. In 2014, the trade between Russia and Egypt ran up to $4.5 billion, showing an 80 percent increase on the year before. Furthermore, Sisi has revealed that Egypt and Russia have reached an agreement to establish a free trade zone between his country and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union. Russia and Egypt took a course toward intensive rapprochement due to, as it was stated, the growing terrorist threat and outside economic pressure.
Russia is a much-needed partner for Egypt, but not the only one. Egypt is suffering from a deep energy crisis thus it has recently agreed with Kuwaiti companies on the establishment of petrochemical projects worth $6.8 billion. There is a bargain with France to buy 24 French Rafale figter jets as a part of a $5.9 billion deal signed on February 16 and that is a good illustration of Cairo’s political course. China is also considered as an important partner in terms of arms supplies.
Egypt needs arms
The terrorist threat that Egypt is facing is great and is increasing. Today, militant groups like Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis are have shown support for ISIS and this creates increasing disturbance and turbulence in the Sinai region.
The beheading of Egyptian Christians in Libya shows that the ISIS plague is spreading and in the case of devastated Libya, it is a catastrophe we are just about to realize and recognize. By beheading the Coptic Christians, ISIS has thrown down a challenge not only to Egypt, but to Sisi personally. It would be out of place to remind readers here that Sisi made an extraordinary gesture at the beginning of the year by visiting the main Coptic Christian church on Christmas night to attend mass and personally congratulate the Christians. This was to stress that Christians are an integral part of Egyptian society.
Following the beheadings on Sunday, Sisi called an urgent meeting of Egypt’s top national security body and made an address to the nation. But the development of the situation and aggravation of the security and stability in Egypt, on its borders and even within them, show that Egypt won’t be able to cope with its problems alone or with little foreign involvement. Also, its projects in the energy sector, especially those in the nuclear sphere, could remain on paper and never be realized, as construction of any nuclear infrastructure in a country facing growing instability and an unprecedented terrorist threat is unreasonably dangerous.
If the Mediterranean is a crossroad of the civilizations, Egypt is at the heart of this crossroad. Its strategic, geopolitical significance for the whole world’s stability is immense and its authority in the Arab world is historically great and fundamental. Egypt needs major assistance and intense cooperation with all its partners and of all its partners should cooperate. It needs investments to strengthen its economy; it needs weapons, intense global military assistance and intelligence cooperation to counter terrorism. It was fairly stated by analyst Theodore Karasik on his Twitter account (following the ISIS killings in Libya): “Full blown three front war opening. #Libya, #Yemen, #Levant.” But the most difficult front we are to fight is Egypt’s. Meeting the threat demands intense cooperation between different sides, even among those who are opposed to Sisi’s presence in power.
Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme