Could Russia Flip Egypt?

    Anna Borshchevskaya

    Security, Middle East

    Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attend a welcoming ceremony onboard guided missile cruiser Moskva at the Black Sea port of Sochi, August 12, 2014. REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

    Throughout the Cold War, Egypt was a prize, too important to cast aside—and today it is sought after.

    In August 2017, American and Egyptian forces resumed Operation Bright Star after an eight-year hiatus due to both the Arab Spring and the former President Barack Obama’s ire at Egyptian human-rights abuses. That Operation is a biennial military exercise intended to showcase both the political alliance between Washington and Cairo and their two military’s tight relations. The most recent operation capped a new honeymoon in U.S.-Egypt ties that began with President Trump’s election and continued with a state visit in Washington and the release of long-imprisoned American aid worker Aya Hijazi.

    But, will warm U.S.-Egypt ties persist? And, if they sour against the backdrop of Congressional human-rights sanctions and simple neglect, could Russia be poised to flip Egypt? While perhaps unimaginable to diplomats who, for a generation, have taken Egypt’s Western orientation for granted, the answer is unfortunately yes.

    Throughout the Cold War, Egypt was a prize, too important to cast aside. For instance, President Eisenhower stood up not only to Israel but also North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies France and Great Britain after they invaded Egypt to reverse Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal. But Egypt nevertheless moved into the Soviet orbit, training Egyptian pilots in Russia and ultimately culminating in a Treaty of Friendship under Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat. But deft American diplomacy managed to flip Egypt back into America’s camp where, especially after the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt, it has remained a cornerstone of American regional security policy.

    As Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to dislodge American influence in the Middle East and raise Russia’s great power status, Cairo is increasingly in Moscow’s crosshairs. For example, Putin has agreed to resume Russian flights to Egypt that were suspended the same year after a terrorist attack downed a Russian charter flight killing over two hundred Russian tourists onboard. This move comes at the same time as the American Senate Appropriations Committee holds up $ 300 million in aid until Egypt compensates an American injured when the Egyptian military fired on a group of tourists near the Libyan border.

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