Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would support a presidential bid from Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, wishing him luck after holding talks in Moscow.
“I know that you, Mr defence minister, have decided to run for president of Egypt,” Putin said, according to Russian news reports.
“It’s a very responsible decision… I wish you luck both from myself personally and from the Russian people.”
Sisi, who is widely expected to run for the job, has not yet officially declared his candidacy and there was no announcement from the Egyptian government.
I know that you, Mr defence minister, have decided to run for president of Egypt. It's a very responsible decision.
Sisi and Nabil Fahmy, Egypt’s foreign minister, also held separate talks with Sergei Shoigu and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian defence and foreign ministers.
“We are closely watching the situation in your country. We are interested in Egypt being a strong and stable country,” Shoigu said in his opening remarks at the meeting with Sisi, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.
“In the current situation, it is good to adopt a new Egyptian Constitution in a national referendum … We believe your efforts to establish stability in the country are being effective.”
Shoigu also said Moscow supported Cairo’s efforts to “fight against terrorism”.
“In this regard, we will discuss in some important issues of military and military-technical cooperation, the terms of that and future prospects… We are interested in the development of such cooperation. Cooperation between our countries has deep historical roots,” he said.
Arms deal speculation
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from Moscow, said that well-informed sources have said a major weapons deal will be signed during the visit.
Russian and Egyptian media carried reports of a $2bn Gulf-funded arms agreement in the making between the countries. The reports said the deal is to be funded mainly by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
If signed, it will underscore the Gulf states’ support for Egypt’s military-backed government.
The visit is also seen as a move to reduce Egypt’s reliance on the United States after relations cooled following the coup against former President Mohamed Morsi and Cairo’s harsh response to protests that followed it.
According to Brennan, Egyptian authorities have said they are not seeking to move away from their relationship with the US, but are instead working to diversify and add to their list of international allies.
Sisi made a rare appearance in civilian clothes on his way to Moscow, fuelling speculation he was trying to appear more presidential before announcing a bid for top office. The country’s top military body recently endorsed his candidacy .
He has become hugely popular among a large segment of Egyptians who see him as the nation’s saviour for ending the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, who many accused of dominating power under Morsi.
Still, a deadly security crackdown on supporters that has left hundreds dead and a subsequent campaign of intimidation and arrests of secular-leaning critics have raised concerns about Sisi’s tolerance for dissent.
The government says it is in a war against terrorism, citing a wave of bombings and suicide attacks that have targeted police and the military, leaving scores dead and wounded.