Trust is key to bolstering Russia-Egypt ties
Leaders of the two countries agree to continue close cooperation on anti-terrorism efforts
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi talked on the phone about the situation in Syria, according to the Kremlin. The leaders agreed to continue their close cooperation in this regard, as well as on anti-terrorism efforts.
Given growing global demand for weaponry, as well as energy shortages facing Egypt’s growing population, energy projects and further purchases of Russian weaponry were likely also discussed.
Egypt is waiting with growing impatience for Moscow to lift the ban it imposed last year on Russian tourists travelling there after the downing by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai. The ban has caused significant financial losses for Cairo, but despite great diplomatic efforts, Moscow is in no hurry to lift it.
Nevertheless, Russia continues to expand its cooperation with Egypt, sending one government delegation after another. Russia’s Communication Ministry recently signed a memorandum on cooperation in IT, and postal and mass communication. The two sides have agreed to cut roaming costs, which will benefit business people and tourists once the ban is lifted. Russia considers Egypt a promising market for its IT companies.
Moscow awaits the arrival of Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri in mid-March. The agenda is supposed to be broad, from Syria to tourism. Russia considers Egypt a key counterpart for pursuing its geopolitical goals in the region, but is treading carefully due to a sense of Egyptian unpredictability.
Efforts to improve bilateral relations will be bolstered by the lifting of the tourist ban, as it is impossible to build friendship without trustMaria Dubovikova
Cairo needs Russian tourist revenue, and Egyptian investors want to invest in Russia and do business in the country. However, their view of Russians and Russian business consists of outdated stereotypes such as being slow, corrupt, unreliable and unpredictable. There are also language barriers that Russians seem not so eager to overcome. Moscow is focused more on building government ties than those between societies and business.
Efforts to improve bilateral relations will be bolstered by the lifting of the tourist ban, as it is impossible to build friendship without trust. Until Russia trusts Egypt with the wellbeing of its citizens, all other fields of cooperation will be affected.
However, lifting the ban is unlikely before autumn. Firstly, Russia needs to guarantee the huge tourism boom for the summer season to its domestic destinations such as Sochi and Crimea. Secondly, by autumn the situation in Syria is expected to be clearer, and ISIS significantly weakened.
Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme