Egypt-Russia tension comes out into the open

The Russian Ambassador in Cairo, Georgy Borisenko, published an open message on his official page on Facebook directed to Emad al-Deen Hussein, the editor-in-chief of the Egyptian newspaper Al Shorouk, in response to his critical article entitled “A new pause with the Russian friend.” This is the first sign of the tension between the Egyptian and Russian regimes that is out in the open and it is obvious that it is one of the consequences of the victory of the democratic candidate for the US presidency Joseph Biden.

On 14 November, Emad al-Deen Hussein wrote maybe the sharpest article ever directed to Russia since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi assumed the presidency. In his article, Hussein said, “The Russian demands in many areas have become greatly exaggerated. I have been reading about many experts demanding the necessity of reviewing the relationship with Russia, not to decrease them, but for them to be on a correct basis. It is clear that pragmatism with Russia has reached a critical level these days and we should convince it that disregarding the Egyptian interests in many files would never lead to a healthy relationship. It is important that we have strong and stable relationships with everyone, especially with the major powers, but what is important is that these relationships do not come at the expense of the Egyptian interests. We need relationships with Moscow and others based on parity and equity, not continuous concessions.”

It is worth mentioning that only a few weeks had passed since the author of the above lines was appointed a member of the Senate Council; the second chamber of the Egyptian House of Representatives, among the other members appointed by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. He also has a history of close relationships with the Emirati ally as he worked for ten years at Emirati newspaper Al Bayan before he joined Al Shorouk newspaper. In addition, the article was published with an evident laxity from the security censorship on Egyptian journalism which misses nothing when it comes to the Egyptian newspapers unless it conforms with al-Sisi’s vision. Thus, it is clear that the writer of this article was given the green light, if he was not instructed to write it.

The Russian ambassador responded with a lengthy post, both in Russian and Arabic, on his page on Facebook pointing out justifications for the continued cessation of trips between the Egyptian and Russian cities ever since the Russian plane was bombed in Sinai in 2015. He said, “There are objective conditions that Moscow has to consider; like the unresolved case of compensation for the relatives of the victims of the terrorist attack in Sinai. In that regard, the victims’ families are demanding that His Excellency the Russian President, and the Government of the Russian Federation, besides the Russian Foreign Ministry, stop any flights to Egypt. We are talking about Russian citizens, therefore the Russian authorities cannot ignore their attitude. In addition, the issue of providing the necessary security measures at the airports of both coastal cities mentioned earlier remains a fundamental one.”

In an exclusive interview with Egypt Watch, a close sovereign source intimate with the negotiations between the Egyptian and Russian sides said that the most significant disagreement between the two regimes related to security measures was the Russian demand of sending permanent Russian security teams to the airports that will receive Russian tourists to review the security measures there. That demand was met with fierce rejection from the Egyptian Interior Ministry and the National Security Service.

The Egyptian-Russian relationship also witnessed tension in relation with the deal under which Egypt bought 30 Russian Su-35 jets, of which Moscow finished the first patch several months ago, but Egypt did not receive until now for fear of being subjected to American military sanctions imposed by the CAATSA law for Countering America’s Adversaries. The Egyptian regime was hoping that the deal will pass with no tension had Donald Trump succeeded in the elections and managed to save al-Sisi’s regime from the sanctions, or even impose secret and mitigated sanctions like what happened following the North Korean weapons’ deal with the Egyptian army. That deal resulted in imposing sanctions on the military factory Saqr, but they were mitigated and kept secret. Trump’s loss, however, and the election of another American administration put al-Sisi’s regime in a difficult situation as on the one hand there is pressure from Russia to complete the deal, and on the other hand, there are American sanctions awaiting al-Sisi should he receive the aircraft.

Washington imposed sanctions on Beijing because of purchasing 10 Su-35 aircraft previously. Among these sanctions were prohibiting the issuance of American Export visas to the Training and Supply section of the Chinese army, forbidding any banking transactions with the American financial sector, freezing all its property subject to the American jurisdiction, and preventing the department’s head from entering the USA as well as freezing his accounts and properties in the USA. The American administration’s spokesperson stated that these sanctions and others might be imposed on other countries to prevent money flow to the Russian government and that the American administration warned the countries of the world against purchasing the Sukhoi products.