CAIRO – 30 December 2017: Although there have been tensions between Egypt and a number of countries in the region and the continent, the country was able to develop strategic partnerships with some states and improve its relations with many others. The following is an insight to the ties Egypt strengthened with other states in 2017 and what to expect for 2018.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenk
Mohamed Farrag Abou El Nour - writer, political analyst and expert in Russian affairs – said that Egyptian-Russian relations developed in various aspects. For the political aspect, there has been congruence upon many regional matters. These are fighting terrorism in MENA region, political solutions for the Syrian conflict, preserving the nation-state in the region’s countries, increasing the de-confliction areas, and supporting the two-state solution with Eastern Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine.
Abou El Nour added that Egyptian and Russian presidents highlighted during the latter’s visit to Egypt that the situation in Libya is “dangerous” making room for terrorist activities because of the lack of a unified state, and functional institutions, especially the army. The expert stressed Russia’s concern about the ascending number of terrorists in Libya to which “the Islamic State (IS) militants defeated in Syria and Iraq are being moved by the United States, Turkey, and Qatar.”
That convergence in visions is reflected in the military cooperation between Egypt and Russia embodied in the arms deals signed between both countries. In 2017, Egypt received three Ka-52 attack helicopters, known as Black Shark, which are part of a 46 “Black Shark” helicopters deal signed in 2015.
However, Egypt upgraded the deal in June to acquire the latest Ka-52 helicopters, instead of the conventional Ka-52 agreed to earlier. These Kamov Ka-52K helicopters will deployed for Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. In June, Egypt also received the first out of three Antey-2500 long-range air defense missile system which similar S-300 VM missile defense system.
Abou El Nour explained that the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s visit to Egypt to meet his Egyptian counterpart Sedky Sobhy few days prior to the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin is an indicator that the execution of these and other military deals will start in 2018. There is another deal that was signed in 2014 for purchasing 50 Mikoyan MiG-29 fighters which will be delivered in batches till 2020.
Both presidents agreed on strengthening the exchange of information between both countries on anti-terrorism efforts, especially regarding the issue of terrorists fleeing unstable spots to other countries. The expert clarified that Russia would provide Egypt with satellite images of militants camps and movements in Libya and neighboring countries in addition to supplying military surveillance equipment to be used in counter-terrorism operations.
During his visit to Egypt, Putin told his Egyptian counterpart that he would inform him of the details of his meeting with Syrian president Bashar Al Assad that took place on the same day of his visit to Egypt in Hmeimim Airbase. This is the second Putin's visit to Egypt since Egyptian president was elected in 2014 as the first was in 2015.
As for economic cooperation, Minister of Industry and Trade declared in December that Egyptian exports to Russia markedly increased during the first nine months of 2017, scoring a 28.5-percent increase amounting to $421 million in value in comparison to the amounted $327.5 million in the same period the year before. Russian flights to Egypt are also resuming in 2018.
Abou El Nour views Putin’s visit to Egypt as the green light to start the implementation of the Russian industrial zone in the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCzone). Putin said during his visit that the investments in the project will score $7 billion highlighting that the size of Egyptian-Russian trade amounted to $4 billion.
The expert explained that Russia will build factories serving the industries of electronics, electric power, engineering, vehicles - especially cars and trucks - and cranes. These factories will create 35,000 job opportunities and promote “establishing Russian technology in these industries.” Abou El Nour clarified that sharing the know-how with labor in foreign markets as part of their direct investments is a competitive advantage of the Russians.
Putin and Sisi witnessed the signing of the Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant contracts between the Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy and Russian nuclear firm Rosatom. The contracts cover designing and construction of the plant, supplying nuclear fuel, consulting services for operation and maintenance, and fuel recycling.
The plant includes four third-generation reactors, with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts (MW) each, for a total of 4,800 megawatts. The plant will be built on approximately 12,000 feddans and is expected to create over 50,000 job opportunities. The first reactor will be accomplished in 2026, while the rest will be finished in 2028.
A preliminary agreement was signed by Egypt and Russia in November 2015 to build a nuclear power plant in Dabaa, along with a $25 billion loan to cover 85 percent of the plant, with Egypt funding the remaining 15 percent. Local funding for the first two reactors will be 20 and 25 percent respectively, and will gradually increase to 35 percent for the other two reactors.
“The importance of Dabaa lies in establishing a nuclear infrastructure in Egypt by developing nuclear research institutions; granting academic scholarships and training sessions to Egyptian experts in Russia; as well as building a nuclear technical school to qualify Egyptian technicians who will work in the plant,” Abou El Nour highlighted adding that 20 percent of the constructions in the plant will be executed by Egyptian companies.
The expert emphasized that the plant would “establish nuclear technology in Egypt” which will serve the industrial, agricultural, and medical fields as well as boost desalination in the North Coast. He concluded that 2017 was very important to develop Egyptian-Russian strategic partnership.
EgyptSat-A may also be launched within the last months of 2018 substituting the lost EgyptSat 2. The new satellite manufactured by Russia - funded from the insurance sum of the lost satellite - is designed for photography to help designing development plans and preserve borders through images of Egyptian territories.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd R) in Abdeen palace during the Chinese president's first day of his visit, in Cairo, Egypt, January 20, 2016, in this handout courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency. Picture taken January (Photo: Reuters)
Chinese Affairs Expert Samy El Kamhawy said that Chinese-Egyptian relations are ascending since December 2014 when President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi visited China agreeing with his Chinese counterpart “to develop relations into a strategic partnership which something China does not do often with other countries.”
Since then Sisi visited China three times. The latest of which was in September as he was invited to attend the BRICS summit. The president visited China in September 2015 as he attended the military parade marking the 70th anniversary of World War II whereas a number of military soldiers participated. He was also invited to attend the 2016 G20 Hangzhou Summit.
On the other hand, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Egypt in January 2016. El Kamhawy clarified that over 60 agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoUs) were signed but very few were put into effect adding that the implementation of further projects may start in 2018.
The expert explained that although the economic aspect appears to be more dominant in Egyptian-Chinese relations, the strategic partnership includes all aspects as both countries have almost identical views on international and regional matters such as fighting terrorism “without discrimination between terrorist groups and without applying double standards,” as well as supporting the two-state rejecting the U.S. decision over Jerusalem.
Other matters include structural reforms in the United Nations as it did not adequately fulfill the goal it was established for in the first place which is serving all peoples in the world. One of the aspired reforms is increasing the number of permanent members in the Security Council as Egypt wants to become a permanent member, El Kamhawy said.
There is congruence among Egypt and China that conflicts in the region – such as those occurring in Syria, Libya, and Yemen - should be politically resolved through dialogue rejecting foreign military intervention, the expert added highlighting the proximity between both countries in international forums which was evident when the Chinese candidate Qian Tang to UNESCO Secretary-General withdrew in favor of Egypt’s candidate Moshira Khattab in October.
El Kamhawy said that China has to contribute more in international diplomacy as it prefers to appear as keeping a distance from conflicts. China is a super power that has good relations with the region’s countries so it can play a role in achieving peace in the Middle East after the United States seemed to be a party in the Arab-Israeli conflict after its recent decision of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the expert added.
El Kamhawy also shed light on the ascending cultural cooperation between both countries as China increased scholarships granted to Egyptian students amounting now to 1,000 in sciences and technology. Chinese language departments are now available in 11 universities instead of two, which were Ain Shams and Suez Canal. On the other hand, the number of Chinese students learning Arabic is increasing, the expert added.
El Kamhawy stated that the execution of Chinese investments in the SCzone may be launched in 2018 encouraged by currency flotation and the new investment law. The total Chinese investments in this Suez Canal Economic Zone exceeded $1 billion creating 3,000 jobs in Egypt.
Around 28 Egyptian marble companies will take part in the Xiamen International Stone Fair - one of the biggest fairs for stones in the world and it displays the latest techniques in this field - that will be held in China on March 6-9, 2018. Egypt's exports of marble and granite hit 2.127 million tons during the past 11 months compared to 1.739 million tons over the same period in the past year.
Trade balance between Egypt and China reached $8.633 billion in January-October 2017, down 9.48 percent compared to the same period in 2016, according to the China Customs Agency.
Chinese exports to Egypt recorded $7.586 billion during the period from January to October 2017, 17.04 percent decrease from the corresponding period of 2016, whereas Egyptian exports to China stood at $1.047 billion, up 166.34 percent.
Chinese investments increased by $106 million during the first half of 2017, an increase of about 75 percent compared to the same period last year. Financial cooperation between the two countries also flourished. The Yuan started to be used in Egypt, as per an agreement between the two countries’ central banks
Egypt and China signed a number of credit agreements at a value of $5 billion between a string of Egyptian banks and the China Development Bank, Export-Import Bank of China and the Asian Development Bank in 2017.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attend a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
International Affairs Expert Said El Lawendy said that European countries at first had doubt in President Sisi but relations got better with former and current French presidents Francois Holland and Emmanuel Macron through the military deals to purchase two Mistral warships and 24 Dassualt Rafale Fighters.
In April, Egypt received the fourth batch consisting of two jets so that the total number of delivered jets sums up to 11. It is worthy to mention that the Mistral warships were designed for Russia but were not delivered due to the European Union (EU)’s sanctions imposed amid the Crimean crisis in 2014. As Russia had already paid for the warships, it had the right to designate other recipients so it selected Egypt, although it got also an offer from Iran.
In October, President Sisi paid a three-day state visit to France where he met with his French counterpart signing a number of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) and agreements, worth €400 million including an MoU on developing the Egyptian national railway system and another on cultural cooperation.
Macron said Egypt’s fight against terrorism is should “never be forgotten” when talking about human rights in Egypt during the joint press conference in Paris adding that “combating terror is the ultimate preservation of human rights.”
In response to a question about human rights status in Egypt, Macron asserted that he is keen on not interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, saying, “I do not accept getting comments from others on how I govern my country so I would not do that to others countries.” He highlighted that Egypt has “achieved much” in terms of human rights record despite facing challenges.
Macron also said that SCzone is currently a place where there are “great opportunities,” and reminds of “historic relations” between Egypt and France expressing his support to Egypt’s “ambitious” economic reform program.
In November, Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Sharm attended the Model United Nations (MUN) closing sessions on the last day of the World Youth Forum (WYF).
Trade balance between Egypt and France reached €1.546 billion ($1.82 billion) in the first eight months of 2017, marking an increase of 12 percent from the €1.38 achieved during the same period in 2016. Egyptian exports to France also rose from €332 million in 2016 to €401 million in 2017.
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin in June 2017 during the G20 Summit - File Photo
El Lawendy explained that Egypt counts on France and Germany as they are the pillars of the EU highlighting the president praised the technological advancement of the latter. He added that the focus in Egypt-EU relations is on fighting terrorism, and economic cooperation.
The expert added that Egypt’s relations with the EU “prospered” in 2017 which will be crystallized in 2018. He concluded that Egypt’s international relations became more dynamic and that the recent votes in favor of the Egyptian-drafted resolution on Jerusalem in the United Nations Security Council and the Emergency Special Session at General Assembly made Egypt in the centre of international diplomacy.
There has been increasing economic cooperation between many European countries, and the European Bank for Trade and Reconstruction (EBRD). In 2017, the total number of projects funded by EBRD loans reached 32 in the value of €1.2 billion. Of which $500 million were directed to renewable energy projects.
The current EBRD activity in Egypt consists of 66 projects, and €2.4 billion as current portfolio of projects.
EBRD said in November that economic growth in Egypt is forecasted at 4.5 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2017/2018 after a growth of 4.1 percent in the previous twelve months, according to its Regional Economic Prospects.
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and African leaders pose for a photo in the second day of the Africa 2017 Forum on Friday - press photo
Expert of African Affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Amani El Tawil said that Egypt’s interest in Africa in 2017 was a continuation of the policies adopted throughout the previous couple of years. Africa got more space in Egyptian diplomacy embodied in Sisi’s visits to eastern and central African countries.
As for the president’s repeated statements on the necessity of constructing a railway network connecting African countries, El Tawil says that the cost of such project amounts to $1 trillion so it needs many countries to contribute, and that it would be executed over the period of 10 years.
The president first highlighted the necessity of such project while attending the 2017 G20 Summit in Germany, and stressed it later during the World Youth Forum (WYF) in November and Africa 2017 Forum in December focusing on investments.
Such forums - held by Egypt in Sharm El Sheikh - create a platform for African countries to discuss continental matters but they have limited effect as more in-depth tools must be deployed by Egypt to strengthen its ties with African countries, mainly through foreign direct investment, El Tawil explained.