A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sisi Returns Triumphant from Russian Visit, Putin Endorsement

I guess if you are around long enough some things do come full circle. On a July day in 1972 I sat on  balcony by the Nile and watched wave after wave of big Antonov transports heading eastward over the city of Cairo. I wondered if troops were being moved towards the Canal, then the front line with Israel. The next day I learned otherwise: Anwar Sadat had expelled the Soviet military "advisers" (some of whom were actually pilots and such) from Egypt.

Field Marshal al-Sisi has now returned triumphant from Moscow, having concluded a $2 billion arms deal with Russia, a deal reportedly paid with Gulf funding, and, perhaps more importantly, won an apparent endorsement by Vladimir Putin himself for his likely run for the Egyptian Presidency. (Sisi was there in his capacity as Defense Minister, along with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, and they were technically returning the visit of the Russian Foreign and Defense Ministers to Cairo last year. But the trip, which the Russians reportedly wanted to delay until after the Olympics but Sisi refused, is clearly being played in the Egyptian media as Sisi's first big diplomatic triumph, ideally timed before Presidential elections in April. It allows him to distance himself from the long dependence on the US, echoes the theme of Sisi as a new Nasser, and the act that he wore a business suit rather than a uniform also drew attention.

Of course, Egypt hasn't broken with the US as a military supplier; it's diversifying. Sisi is not Nasser, Putin's Russia is not the Cold War Soviet Union, and it's not the 1950s and 1960s any more, but the trip does skillfully evoke memories of those days, when Khrushchev stood next to Nasser at the Aswan High Dam. Since Sisi will need to announce his Presidential intentions soon, the high-profile trip to Moscow represents a well-timed move.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Once he is elected, Sisi can then court wider international support and backers in the U.S. Congress by addressing the Knesset.