Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, relations between Egypt and Russia underwent a period of “stagnation” characterized by a weak level of interaction, as well as the decay of the old relations and forms of cooperation.
From the early 2000s onwards, the international and regional agenda became a central part of bilateral relations between the two countries. That so many of the positions held by Moscow and Cairo on international issues have coincided has pushed them to deepen their cooperation.
The expansion of bilateral relations in the first decade of the 21st century was accompanied by the formation of legal, financial and organizational structures and institutions of cooperation that laid the basis for the development of relations throughout the century.
The emergence of a new leadership in Egypt in 2013 after the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi marked the beginning of a new stage in Russian-Egyptian relations. The tendency of Moscow to establish relations with authoritarian regimes also experiencing difficulties in relations with the West contributed to this factor.
Egypt’s main trading partners are EU countries, which account for 30.3 percent of the foreign trade turnover of Egypt, while Arab countries represent 22.9 percent, other Asian countries account for 19.6 percent, and the US accounts for 7.6 percent. In turn, Russia was only the seventh most important trade partner for Egypt in 2015, even below Turkey, whose relations with Cairo severely deteriorated after the coup in 2013.
Military-technical cooperation that, for internal reasons (both in Egypt and Russia) has reached its limits in terms of resources and capabilities, nonetheless continues to form the basis of Russian-Egyptian cooperation.
The current state of the Egyptian economy, which is highly dependent on foreign loans, as well as stagnation in the Russian economy, do not make Russia the best possible economic partner for Egypt.
Despite the trend towards an improvement in bilateral relations after 2013, relations are still vulnerable to threats including the unstable situation in Egypt, the potential for conflict begun by the recent ban of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the volatile situation in other countries bordering Egypt, particularly Libya.
Although Western countries condemned the military coup in Egypt in 2013, the Egyptian elite, and primarily the military, have remained oriented towards the United States. In this regard, Cairo’s rapprochement with Moscow looks like an attempt to make Washington “jealous”.
Egypt, of course, is a desirable partner for Russia, and Moscow would like to use these relations to help in its return to the Middle East, but under current conditions this goal seems unattainable.
The Russian Federation and the Arab Republic of Egypt are connected by a complex history of political and economic relations as well as multifaceted humanitarian ties. The significance of Egypt to Russia is defined by its role as one of the leading political, economic and cultural centers of the Middle East and North Africa, and its place within the vast Islamic world. Egypt holds sea, land and air pathways of great international importance. Cooperation with Egypt would help Russia to pursue its interests in the Middle East region, as it is located close to Russia’s southern borders in a conflict-prone region of enormous geopolitical importance. Hence, interactions between the two countries could contribute to the sustainability of Russia’s position in the Islamic world, the creation of favorable conditions for the development of Russian regions with high Muslim populations, the preservation and strengthening of Russia’s interests in the world energy market and the strategically important Russian agricultural and high-tech production markets, as well as aiding the exports of goods and services within the framework of bilateral military-technical cooperation: for instance, in the field of aerospace. Relations between Russia and Egypt in the cultural sphere are extensive and significant: they are connected through international tourism, the existence of a Russian community[i] in the country,[ii] and the interaction of Christian and Muslim confessional groups. The effective implementation of the objectives and tasks of Russian foreign policy is very important for the coordination of the international activities of Russia and Egypt in the UN, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, the African Union, the Forum of Gas Exporting Countries and other international organizations and forums.