Tag Archives: US

Russia returns to Egypt

A file picture taken on November 2, 2013, shows (L-R) Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov smiling during their visit to Tokyo. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Yoshikazu TSUNO)

A file picture taken on November 2, 2013, shows (L-R) Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov smiling during their visit to Tokyo.
(AFP PHOTO / POOL / Yoshikazu TSUNO)

In Alexandria a warship docks, but this is no ordinary warship. It is the Russian Varyag missile cruiser, but that is not what makes it special. The ship arrived two days ahead of a high-level Russian delegation, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu. This is one of the most poignant meetings not only due to the presence of high-level officials but the context in which it is taking place.

In the 1950s and 1960s Russia and Egypt had a strong relationship, engineered by Gamal Abdel Nasser. At the time the United States and the Soviet Union were tussling for influence in the Middle East and Egypt was (and still is) a vital component of achieving that. Nasser remained neutral in the cold war on the whole but was happy to cosy up to the Russian side that was willing to support his regional ambitions and Nasser was even awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest honours of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet support is still visible in Egypt, maybe an indication of the stagnation imposed by decades authoritarian rule. Soviet era cars still ferry people around the streets and the military are still using come of the old Soviet aircraft.

Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat took Egypt in another direction following the 1973 October war. The singing of a peace agreement with Israel, sponsored by the United States marked the beginning of what as been described as an “enduring” relationship between Egypt and the US.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak (R) talks to his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev during their meeting at the presidential palace in Cairo, in this June 23, 2009 file photo. Egypt's Vice President Omar Suleiman said on February 11, 2011 that Mubarak had bowed to pressure from the street and had resigned, handing power to the army, he said in a televised statement. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Dmitry Astakhov/Files

Former President Hosni Mubarak (R) talks to his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev during their meeting at the presidential palace in Cairo, in this June 23, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Dmitry Astakhov/Files

Egypt and Russia did not become enemies by any stretch but the relationship is nothing like it was in the 50s and 60s. Both Vladimir Putin (2005) and Dmitry Medvedev (2009) both travelled to Cairo to meet with former President Hosni Mubarak, who also visited Russia in 2008.            Mohamed Morsi also visited earlier this year and had a $2billion loan request turned down by Putin.

The US-Egypt relationship has come under much strain since  Morsi was removed from power in July. The US was left ever so slightly dumb struck, which was reflected clearly in the comments from the State Department briefing room. The US found itself torn between remaining a champion of democracy and turning its back on an old friend: the Egyptian Armed Forces.

US law relating to foreign funding

US law relating to foreign funding

Eventually the US decided to adhere to its legal procedures relating to foreign funding, which states that no funding should be given “to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by decree or military coup.” That being said, the cut related to military equipment and funding, aid programs that “directly benefit” the Egyptian people remained intact.

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had already been screaming, “it’s not a coup” from rooftops around the world; therefore it stuck to its original message in response to the US aid cut. ‘The people of Egypt will decide its future and we are sticking to the roadmap not for the benefit of the world but for the benefit of the Egyptian people.’

Egypt is now looking elsewhere for support and there is no shortage of those willing to fill the void left by the US. This is abundantly clear by the billions of dollars received from the Gulf nations and the increased contact with Russia, and even some less high profile contact with China.

The Russian delegation is rumoured to be bringing a $4billion arms deal as well as seeking cooperation in various areas. An arms deal signed between Egypt and Russia would send a message around the world but would be heard loudest in Washington. The ministry of foreign affairs has said a number of times that Egypt is opening up to the world and exploring its options and is not replacing the US but adding another friend. It just remains to be seen if the US sees it the same way.

Here come the Qataris

A banner at a march in Cairo on 11 February 2013

A banner at a march in Cairo on 11 February 2013

For hundreds of years Egypt has been the focal point of the Middle East and North Africa region. However Egypt’s role in the region has developed and adapted to its surroundings and since the birth of Israel 65 years ago the dynamics changed dramatically. Suddenly Egypt became more than just another colonial conquest.

The peace deal signed by Anwar Sadat damaged Egypt’s status among its Arab neighbors, a betrayal of the Palestinians and the Arab cause. A big change from Gamal Abdul Nasser’s Arab nationalism.

Aided by the US, Egypt came out the other side and reclaimed its position in the region and then Egypt stagnated under the rule of Hosni Mubarak. The US asked no questions as long as Mubarak’s Egypt remained stable.

Since the Arab Spring the rules of the region changed, Egypt’s role was vulnerable and the rentier states from the Gulf began to see an opportunity that was more than just a good investment. Morsi’s handling of the deadly spat between Hamas and Israel in November 2012 gave him a boost in the eyes of the West. However, Morsi’s performance both domestically and regionally does not reflect the title awarded him by Time magazine: The Most Important Man in the Middle East. 

Morsi unlike his predecessors has had to deal with a whole lot of scrutiny from the West. At least once every two weeks the words concerned and Egypt appear in the same sentence during the US State Department daily press briefings. The US is no longer turning a blind eye and Morsi is struggling to keep it together, the economy is failing, sectarian violence continues, freedom of expression is constantly under threat and the group he came from is showing itself to not be as progressive and accepting as it had been portraying in recent years.

Qatar has jumped at the opportunity to usurp Egypt’s position at the head of the region and has begun its quest for regional dominance by outdoing Egypt at every give opportunity.

The Muslim Brotherhood coming to power gave hope to the Gazans and the Hamas led government, which was born from the Brotherhood all those years ago. Surely the Brotherhood would help.. well … their brothers. However this would not be seen as a positive step given that Hamas is viewed as a terrorist organisation by the US. Egypt’s involvement in Gaza is as a mediator and guardian of the tunnels. Sadat’s peace agreement has meant that Egypt’s regional foreign policy is caught between a rock and a hard place (the US and Israel). Morsi did announce that aid would be going to Gaza and would not stop, however there is little information about the value of this aid.

Qatar on the other hand swooped in with a generous aid package acting like the patriarch of the Gazan people. Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani arrived for a short visit to Gaza along with an aid package worth $254 million. His visit held more political power because he became the first Arab leader to visit Gaza since Hamas took power.

Qatar has also taken regional politics into it’s own hands by hosting a number of important regional and international meetings, most notably the Doha conference on Syria, during which the Syrian National Coalition was formed. Qatar and the other Gulf Cooperation Council countries were the first to recognise the SNC as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, while Egypt waited for its cue the West. Doha also hosted the Arab Summit in March, during which Morsi and his foreign affairs A-Team (Mohamed Kamel Amr and Essam El-Haddad) were snapped having a snooze. Obviously this was an important meeting for them they had stayed up all night preparing.

Morsi’s quartet initiative for the Syrian crisis began well. He had Turkey and Saudi Arabia on board and he even managed to reach out to Iran, the pariah of the region but then again crucial to the situation in Syria. However, since the quartet’s creation there have been only a few meetings and Saudi Arabia haven’t attended most of them. Many have forgotten about the initiative but Morsi’s team is currently in Iran attempting to revive it. It will be interesting how far Morsi can take this initiative without having to check with the US, at which point Iran could walk away. It will take some careful diplomacy just to have a proper meeting let alone solve the crisis, but at least Iran would be at the table and that is an achievement in itself.

It has become clear that Egyptian foreign policy is not Egypt’s. It remains in the pocket of the US State Department. Egypt under Morsi has continued as it always did, accept the military aid and maintain stability. This difference this time is that Morsi is having trouble keeping up appearances, there is  little money to give, domestic problems are distracting and he clearly does not have the same charisma like his predecessors did. It takes a certain man to run a ship like Egypt and maintain its position at the head of the fleet and Morsi has yet to show the qualities necessary for his role.

The whispers of a regional coup come from the East and there is very little that can be done; the Qataris are coming.