Off the Egyptian Press: An Eye on Egypt’s Foreign Affairs

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Developments in the realm of Egypt’s foreign affairs have attracted attention in the opinion sections of the local media over the past week.  President Morsi’s trip to Russia and the evolving nature of the Egyptian-Iranian relationship have been particular points of departure that writers have used to consider Egypt’s international direction more broadly.  Here are a few excerpts: 

President Morsi’s Trip to Moscow…What exactly does Egypt want from Russia?

In a piece for Al-Ahram, Eman Ragab focuses on President Morsi’s recent trip to Russia.  Arguing that this trip is part of a broader campaign to diversify Egypt’s international stance, and “not restrict (its foreign relations) to just Washington,” she assesses the tangible goals that the Egyptian government is pursuing.  She writes: 

The purpose of President Morsi’s trip to Russia was primarily economic, as he strove to gain economic aid in three principle areas in which Egypt has been experiencing true crises ever since he came to power: fuel, wheat, and foreign currency.  President Morsi knows that dealing with these crises, whether with Russian or American aid, will guarantee support for his administration in the coming period, and will sideline any attempts to force him out, especially with the expected exacerbation of the fuel and wheat crises as summer approaches and the increasing demand for electricity and rising prices, particularly if subsidies for energy and bread are not increased.  Egypt has begun to see the first signs of this with the increasing lines at gas stations that no longer provide gas as they once did, and with the citizens’ inability to acquire their bread needs.  This is alongside the continuing decline of the value of the Egyptian Pound against the dollar.

Egypt remains important to Russia, despite the changes that (Egypt) is currently undergoing.  This may lead to a change in the Russian position on providing aid to Egypt, but the situation could require Egypt to offer specific concessions to Russia, particularly in political matters.

Escaping the American Bottle

Writing in al-Wafd, Adel Sabry puts Morsi’s Russian sojourn in a larger context, stretching back to Sadat’s reorientation towards the West during the height of the Cold War.  Arguing that Egypt is now turning Eastward after the ‘marginalization’ of the Mubarak era, he maintains that the negative tone of most analyses overlook the necessity and potential of a turn towards states like Russia and China. He writes:

Russia today is searching for an old role, and it won’t find a better place than Egypt to remind the world of that role.  Russia is no longer the country that helps others for free, in exchange for exporting communist thought.  It has freed itself from the illusions that the Marxists introduced after Russia swallowed the poison of their deviant ideas and actions.  Russia today has modern experience, an abundance of money and technology that it wants to export, and the desire to break into markets that the West has had a firm grip on for many years.  As Egypt develops its relationship with China, it is dealing with the biggest consumer market in the world, and the second-largest economy globally.  China currently leads the group of BRICS countries that include Brazil, India, Russia, and South Africa, meaning around half of the world’s inhabitants and the most promising markets in the years to come.


Escaping the American bottle won’t be easy, and we must keep our minds and our eyes on our fundamental interests as we turn towards the East.  There is no love between states; only interests and mutual relations based on balance and shared interests.

Egypt and Iran, Salafis and the Gulf: A Controversy of Tourism, Shiism, and Security

Writing in the media outlet of the Freedom and Justice Party, Khalid al-Aswar focuses on Egypt’s developing relationship with Iran.  Arguing against fears recently expressed in Salafist circles that Iran’s foreign policy goals in Egypt involve the spread of Shi’ism, he notes that Egypt is the only Arab-Islamic country that does not have normal diplomatic relations with Iran, and that religious differences do not prevent most countries in the world from having ‘natural diplomatic relations.’  He writes:

Egypt is a country that was governed by the Shia for eight centuries without becoming Shia, and was occupied by the English for seven decades without being affected by them, but rather taught them Arabic.  Egypt is a country that swallows up anyone who tries to change its identity.  We ought to benefit from normal relations with Iran while conserving the identity of Egypt as a Sunni Arab state.

With regards to the reservations of the Gulf countries towards relations with Iran: there is no need for Egypt to feel any political shame, especially since all of the Gulf states have relations with Iran…Egypt still supports the UAE’s demands to returned its Iranian-occupied islands through political means, just as tighter ties with Iran haven’t prevented President Morsi from announcing Egypt’s support for the Syrian Revolution in the heart of Tehran, despite the strategic alliance between Tehran and Damascus.  Normal relations between Egypt and Iran would contribute to pan-Arab security by limiting the severity of political tensions between the Gulf States and Iran.

Andrew Ver Steegh is a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  He was a Fulbright Fellow in Egypt in 2010-2011.

Photo: Egypt Presidency 

[Editor’s note: Adel Sabry incorrectly states that China is currently leading the BRICS countries, while South Africa hosted the most recent summit and is currently the chairperson.]

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