Egypt arguably numbers among Russia’s strongest allies in the Middle East. Since first seizing power through a coup d’état in 2013, AbdelFateh al-Sisi has regularly been seen in the company of President Vladimir Putin. In turn, bilateral cooperation between their two countries has flourished in a broad range of areas, chiefly: defense, energy, agriculture, high-tech industries, education and culture. Carrying through on this, Egypt has bought large volumes of Russian-made advanced weapons. The upsurge in weapons acquisition is also accompanied by strong demographic ties. Around 35,000 Russian citizens currently reside in Egypt, reflecting Moscow’s keen interest in Cairo as a pivotal power in the Middle East. Egypt, in turn, considers Russia as a key global and regional actor.
At the same time, relations between the two countries, going far back in history, are best described as complex. Since World War II, the two countries passed through phases of close collaboration followed by alienation, stagnation, rapprochement and revival. Current relations however are witnessing a major uptick. Much of this stems from the current geopolitical dynamics found in the Middle East, and opportunities created by the US policies in the region. However, structural domestic factors in Egypt and regional realities also impose limits on the burgeoning partnership between Moscow and Cairo.
This essay addresses the regional context shaping their bilateral relations, while highlighting the main drivers behind the surge in economic, military and diplomatic exchanges. It also outlines genuine major or potential constraints hindering the future of Russia and Egypt’s thriving partnership.