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Friday, April 3, 2015

Egypt and Russia strengthen ties

President el-Sisi came to power in Egypt after leading a coup that overthrew former president Morsi. He later was elected president. 

Throughout this period, Putin gave strong support for Sisi. Since then, relations between the two countries have strengthened.

In 2014 Russia and Egypt signed a $3.5 billion arms deal. Recently, the two countries signed a further military cooperation agreement that will see Egyptian officers and troops trained in Russian military academies. Putin also had a successful visit to Cairo back in February this year.

These moves by Egypt will provide the Egyptian government more leverage in dealing with the US which provides not only substantial military aid to Egypt but also trains many of its armed forces. In response to Egypt's horrible human rights record and suppression of opposition, the US had suspended some military aid. Egypt's response was to show the US that it could also find military aid elsewhere.

The US counter-move was announced by Obama just yesterday. He is renewing all suspended aid to Egypt. Egypt will now receive $1.3 billion in aid that was suspended after the overthrow of elected president Morsi and the subsequent crackdown on opposition. 

The situation in Egypt has not changed in terms of the crackdown but no doubt the Russian aid showed the US that it was not a good idea to try to use arms aid as leverage to improve the political situation within Egypt.

The announced reason for the change in policy is the typical one that can justify anything these days, the danger of the Islamic State. The problem is that Sisi supports General Haftar in Libya. Haftar is armed forces commander of the internationally-recognized Tobruk government. 

Haftar is battling not just the Islamic State but the competing government based in Tripoli which is also being attacked by the Islamic State. In other words, SIsi  can use his weapons to turn the tide in Haftar's battle to retake territory from the Tripoli government.

The US and other western countries have supported the UN peace process. Haftar has sabotaged the process whenever he could. With renewed arms supplied by Egypt ostensibly to help fight the Islamic State, Haftar can carry out his mission to defeat the forces of the competing government in Tripoli.

With the release of the suspended military aid to Egypt, Sisi will receive 12 F-16 fighter jets, replacements kits for 125 Abrams tanks, 20 Harpoon missiles, and the $1.3 billion that had been suspended.

Egypt's improving relationships with Russia have also caused some tension with Saudi Arabia although on many issues such as military action against Yemen the two agree completely. At the Arab League meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el_Sheik, the two states however disagreed on the issue of Syria. Sisi urged a political solution to the conflict. Saudi Arabia insists that Assad must go, but el-Sisi stressed the need to battle terrorism and prevent the collapse of Syrian state institutions.

He is planning to host a conference of the Syrian opposition to form a unified political position on talks. This is the type of action that Russia would prefer as well. While Egypt does not outright give support for Assad, an Egyptian official told AP that the Assad  regime "must be part of the negotiations and the transitional period." The opposition members who would agree to this are no doubt few in number and any political agreement might have very little effect on the battles taking place in Syria. The tightly controlled press in Egypt and Saudi Arabia lambasted each other for their respective positions on Syria. 

Egypt is obviously trying to develop its own more independent foreign policy that is distressing not just to the US but US ally Saudi Arabia as well.

Sources:

http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_306481/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=DjjE3NsH
http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-and-egypt-military-agreement-2015-3
http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/02/moscow-cairo-relations-sisi-putin-egypt-visit.html
http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/31/obama-restores-us-military-aid-to-egypt
http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/how-to-judge-putins-trip-to-egypt

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