Sisi in Russia and the media’s Cold War

Every time a state official from Egypt visits Russia, Egyptian media imagines it as a replay of Cold War politics. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s visit to Russia on Tuesday is no exception. 

The privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm is the leader of this game. One of its content items on the visit constitutes a photo story of the different arms on exhibit to Sisi by Russia in the southern city of Sochi. These include BTR-82 armored personnel carriers and Tor and Pantsir air defense systems among others, “which Egypt could possibly make a deal to obtain in the next period,” writes the newspaper. 

The images are meant to challenge the well-established fact that Egypt is the second largest recipient of US foreign aid, whereby US$1.3 billion is provided annually for military purposes. Much of this aid, however, was frozen following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, and the take-over by the military. 

The US decreased the tension, however, in April by announcing the shipment of $650 million to Egypt for military spending in April, as well as 10 US Apache helicopters. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm also highlights the significance of Sisi’s visit, compared to that of ousted President Mohamed Morsi during his short-lived rule. In the story, Al-Masry Al-Youm indicates how Sochi was described during Morsi’s visit in April 2013 as a small unimportant city, while it was portrayed differently during the field marshal’s visit. A convoy of Russian military planes accompanied Sisi on his way to Sochi, which wasn’t the case with Morsi, the newspaper notes.

In Sochi, Sisi was welcomed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, while in Morsi’s case, only the mayor of Sochi was at the airport to welcome him. Other differences noted by Al-Masry Al-Youm on Russia’s warmer welcome to Sisi include the raising of Egyptian flags next to Russian ones in Sochi during Sisi’s visit, which didn’t happen during the visit of the former Islamist president.

The newspaper also clarifies that the main agenda items in the talks between Sisi and his counterpart Vladimir Putin include diversifying arms and military deals, whereas during Morsi’s time, talks were limited to economic issues. Finally, Morsi’s visit to Russia was deemed unofficial because it took place in Sochi and not Moscow, and because he was uninvited. Sisi’s visit, despite also taking place in Sochi, was not seen as unofficial thanks to Putin’s welcome. Even though the Egyptian presidency tried to push for the meeting to happen in Moscow, Al-Masry Al-Youm reports, Putin was spending his summer in Sochi and thus had to move the meeting there. 

In a side bar to the state-owned Al-Ahram’s celebratory coverage of the visit, the newspaper writes, “The Russians were clearly concerned with generously welcoming Sisi in his first official visit to Russia. Sochi saw for the first time an unprecedented official welcoming to a visiting foreign president. Describing the visit using similar observations to those of Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al-Ahram also references Putin’s insistence on taking Sisi from his summer residence overlooking the Black Sea to a recreational tour in Sochi before meeting for work.

In talks with Putin, Sisi looked into joined counter-terrorism efforts, military cooperation, regional crises in Iraq and Libya as well as a Russian industrial zone in Egypt as part of the new Suez Canal development project. Putin had also announced plans to export five million tons of wheat to Egypt and to increase agricultural imports by 30 percent. 


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