Analysis: Egypt approaches the invasion of Moscow with caution as it seeks to balance relations between the West and Russia amid a looming food crisis at home.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi is under pressure from world powers to take a clear stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine as his country reels from the domestic consequences of the invasion.
Initially, Egypt was reluctant to take a political stance and called for “diplomatic solutions and dialogue”.
This prompted the G7 and European Union ambassadors to Egypt to issue a statement on March 1 to pressure Egypt to be more decisive.
A day later, Egypt and 140 other countries voted in favor of a United Nations resolution that demanded that Russia end its hostility against Ukraine.
“Since Sisi took power in a military coup in 2013, he has established friendly relations with Washington’s rivals China and Russia”
Nonetheless, Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN in New York, Osama Abdel-Khalek, later clarified Cairo’s motives and expressed concerns about the economic sanctions imposed on Russia.
In doing so, Egypt tried to maintain common ground in its relations with Moscow.
“It’s as if Egypt is sending signals to both sides, the West and Russia, that it has a strategic relationship,” said foreign relations expert Ahmed Maher. The new Arabic.
“If Egypt sides with one side against the other and that side wins, the country’s interests will be seriously harmed.”
On March 9, Sisi called Russian President Vladimir Putin to ask for diplomatic solutions to the crisis, reflecting the importance of Cairo’s bilateral relations.
stuck in the middle
Since Sisi took power in a military coup in 2013, he has established friendly relations with Washington’s rivals China and Russia.
“Since Sisi took office, he has renounced the country’s dependence on the United States, seeking other alliances and [attempting] treat them on an equal footing. Such a policy allowed Egypt to open doors to buy weapons from other countries,” says Maher.
Egypt has purchased advanced multi-billion dollar weapons from Moscow and Beijing, ignoring repeated threats from the United States.
At the same time, the country’s vital tourism sector depends on Russian and Ukrainian tourists who flock to the Red Sea resorts.
In addition, Russia is working on the construction of Egypt’s El-Dabaa nuclear power plant, a $26 billion project.
While Sisi has also enjoyed good relations with the EU, particularly France and Germany, it is increasingly difficult to balance these relations given the current global polarization triggered by the war in Russia.
As for the United States, Egypt receives $1.3 billion in military aid every year, and Washington and Cairo maintain high-level security cooperation and joint intelligence sharing, especially after Sisi’s recent role in mediating the fighting between Hamas and Israel.
US President Joe Biden took office in January 2021 but did not initiate a phone call with Sisi until May of the same year after Egypt brokered a truce in the Gaza Strip.
During his campaign, Biden said he would no longer offer blank checks to Sissi, Trump’s “favorite dictator”.
But those threats proved meaningless, with the relationship turning into “business as usual.”
More recently, the U.S. commanding general for forces in the Middle East said the U.S. would supply Egypt with F-15 jets.
Egypt has interests in Ukraine as an ally of the United States and a member of the EU and would not risk jeopardizing these relations.
“It all depends on the end of the crisis. In any case, Sisi will probably keep a neutral path for as long as he can,” said political sociologist Dr Said Sadek. The New Arab.
“After the Russian invasion, food prices soared, causing unease among the poorest in Egypt who depend on staples such as bread and wheat for almost every meal”
In addition to Sisi’s foreign policy dilemma, he also faced domestic challenges as a result of the war.
Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat, which is a strategic commodity in the country, and much of it is supplied by both Russia and Ukraine.
Not only that, but Egypt also imports a considerable amount of corn used for animal and poultry feed from Ukraine.
After the Russian invasion, food prices soared, causing unease among the poorest who depend on staples such as bread and wheat for almost every meal.
The hashtag “the revolution of the poor is coming” has been trending for days on social media in Egypt.
As a result, Sisi ordered the government to fight price hikes and impose huge fines on bakers who oppose government-set prices.
But with the floating of the Egyptian pound imposed on Monday by the Central Bank of Egypt and the rise in the value of the American dollar, nothing guarantees a stabilization of prices, especially since more than 60% of products are imported.
The World Bank has warned that a 30% rise in food prices could lead to a 12% increase in poverty rates in a country where around a third of the 100 million people live below the poverty line.
The question now is whether the poorest will protest against deteriorating economic conditions, which long preceded the war in Ukraine.
“As a rule, opposition forces seize on such crises to score points and settle scores. The media, loyal to the regime, have adopted the same discourse as any [crisis] has been global, attributing it to war, not domestic mismanagement,” Sadek said. TNA.
“In other words, the official message is ‘don’t blame the government for a crisis in case it happens’.”
Thaer Mansour is a Cairo-based journalist who reports for The New Arab on politics, culture and social affairs.