Egypt’s top general has hailed a new era of defence co-operation with Moscow during a visit by Russian officials, sending a message to Washington after it suspended some military aid.
The visit to Cairo by Russia’s defence and foreign ministers was billed by both sides as historic, although the delegation from Moscow left on Thursday without announcing any major agreements.
General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s army chief and defence minister, told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, the visit indicated the continuation of “historic strategic relations via starting a new era of constructive, fruitful co-operation on the military level”, the state news agency reported.
The visit comes as relations deteriorate between Cairo and the US, after the army overthrew the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, on July 3. Last month, Washington announced it would withhold deliveries of some military and economic aid pending progress on democracy.
Playing down speculation of a big shift in Egyptian foreign policy, defined by close ties with Washington for more than three decades, the foreign minister Nabil Fahmy said Russia was not meant to be a “substitute” for anyone.
Egypt and the Soviet Union were close allies until the 1970s, when Cairo moved closer to the US, which brokered its 1979 peace deal with Israel. Egypt’s military receives about $1.3 billion in US aid a year.
‘Message to US’
Shoigu and Sisi talked about strengthening military relations between the countries, the agency said.
“It’s meant to send a message to say Egypt has options, and that if the United States wishes to maintain its strategic alliance with Egypt, it will have to drop the conditions it attaches to the military aid,” said Yasser El-Shimy, Egypt analyst with the International Crisis Group.
Washington has said it would consider resuming some of the suspended aid depending on Egypt’s progress in following the interim government’s plans to hold elections – a plan the government says it is committed to seeing through.
Seeking to mend fences with Egypt, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed guarded optimism about a return to democracy during a November 3 visit to Cairo.
Analysts have also questioned how the heavily indebted Egyptian state would pay for new armaments, saying it would probably need more financial support from Gulf allies that have pledged $12 billion in help since Morsi’s downfall.
There is also a question mark over how Russian armaments could be integrated with Egypt’s US-built weapons systems.