The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum taking place in Russia on Friday will feature a speech from a surprising world leader: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, a longtime US ally who for decades was the second recipient of American aid in the world.
Egypt has been an important partner of the United States in the Middle East since 1979, when it broke with its Arab neighbors to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Successive US administrations have seen Egypt, with its strategic position on Israel’s borders and its control of the Suez Canal, as key to maintaining stability and combating terrorism in the region.
The US government has given Egypt billions of dollars in aid, rarely hesitating until this year, when the Biden administration withheld $130 million over concerns about the Sisi regime’s record on human rights.
But Egypt was friends with Russia long before its relations with the United States warmed up and still maintains important ties: Russia provided nearly 30% of Egypt’s tourists and much of its imported wheat before the war, and Russia is building a $26 billion nuclear power plant in Egypt. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Mr. el-Sisi has tried to balance the two relations, refusing to condemn Russia’s actions as strongly as the United States has demanded.
Although Egypt voted in March for a United Nations resolution against the invasion under US pressure, it also covered its rhetoric on the war. Mr. el-Sisi called on Mr. Putin to reaffirm Egypt’s commitment to cooperation soon after the UN vote, and Egypt has said for months that it will attend the St. Petersburg forum.
In a speech this week, el-Sisi called the invasion a “Russian-Ukrainian crisis”, ostensibly refraining from targeting Russia, and said Egypt prioritized the “language of dialogue and peaceful solutions”.
Egyptian public opinion also leans towards Russia. Many Egyptians are happy to see Russia defy the United States and its allies, building on deep, lingering resentment over the US invasion of Iraq and Western support for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Palestinians.
Egypt’s overlapping fence has not gone unnoticed by the United States, which has in the past expressed annoyance with Egypt’s proximity to Russia and once threatened to impose sanctions on the deals. Egyptians buying Russian planes. But it was unclear on Friday whether the United States had pressured Mr el-Sisi not to speak at the St Petersburg forum.
From Egypt’s point of view, it cannot afford to alienate either country, especially at a time when the Egyptian economy is collapsing under the pressure of inflation, withdrawal of foreign investment and the drying up of wheat supplies.
The United States and its allies argued that it was Russia’s invasion that hurt Egypt’s economy.
“Regardless of what Russian officials might say regarding cooperation with Egypt, they cannot explain the difficulties that this war of aggression is causing Egypt,” the Group of 7 ambassadors to Egypt said in a statement. joint opinion essay this week. “Nor can Russia distract from the financial consequences of Putin’s war of aggression that threatens the prosperity and livelihoods of Egyptians.”