Creating new perspectives since 2009

Egypt's limited options towards the Ukrainian crisis

March 7, 2022 at 2:03 pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (L) attend their meeting in Sochi, Russia, 17 October, 2018. [Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images]

On Wednesday, Egypt voted for the UN General Assembly denouncement of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the demand for Russia to immediately stop using violence against Ukraine. The Egyptian decision to denounce the Russian action was not easy, as Egypt took a week by staying neutral, but external pressure and cost/benefit calculations settled it to align to her more important partners.

Demands to support Ukraine

After the Russian invasion, Egypt issued a statement that can be described as colourless and odourless, expressing ultimate concern over “the rapid progression of the situation in Ukraine,” emphasising “prioritising dialogue and diplomatic solutions”. In total, the statement was an attempt to sit on the fence and avoid taking sides.

Egypt’s western and European partners disliked the Egyptian position, so a series of pressures urged Egypt to support Kyiv and condemn Moscow. Initially, the Ukrainian charge d’affair in Cairo, Mr Ruslan Nechai, demanded the Egyptian government denounce the Russian war against his country, as Lebanon had already done, and abandon “neutrality”, emphasising that Ukrainians prefer “a clear Egyptian situation” towards this aggression.

READ: Mixed reactions over Al-Azhar Imam’s call to end war in Ukraine

Nechai pointed out that his country officially demanded Egypt’s support and solidarity in medical and human aid and to recognise the Russian international law breaches. Indicating the economic consequences, Nechai warned of the damages the war could cast on Egypt’s wheat imports and tourism and the Dab’a under-construction nuclear reactor, which embodies an Egyptian-Russian partnership.

“Last year, the number of Ukrainian tourists to Egypt reached three million; in 2020, Ukraine was the second source of tourists to Egypt,” said Nechai, adding, “Of course, if the war continues, tourists are not going to come, neither from Ukraine nor Russia.”

The Ukrainian diplomat reminded Egyptian authorities that the Ukrainian tourists replaced the Russians for six years since 2015, ranking the first among tourists to Egypt when Moscow suspended its flights to Egypt after the bombing of a Russian passenger flight from Sharm Al-Sheikh over Sinai.

In a statement, the Ukrainian Embassy in Cairo urged Egyptian authorities to ask the Russian Ambassador to withdraw his message, which demanded Egyptians to support Russia, considering his message as incitement on hatred and violence, “as it could lead to violence between Ukrainian and Russian tourists in Egypt.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin's recognised two breakaway territories in Eastern Ukraine - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recognised two breakaway territories in Eastern Ukraine – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

A further step has been made to get Egypt to declare a determinate position towards the war. The ambassadors of the Group of Seven and the EU delegation Ambassador in Cairo called upon the Egyptian government to side with Ukraine against the Russian armed aggression. “We are certain that the Egyptian government is adherent to the principles of peace, safety, stability and sovereignty based on the international rule,” said the ambassadors in a joint statement, remembering, “Egypt since late president Gamal Abdel Nasser supported and seconded the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign countries as a base for the modern world order.” Furthermore, the statement indicated that the Russian aggression would lead Cairo into suffering because of the rise of wheat and food products prices. Egypt is the highest importer of wheat worldwide, and its effect on tourism.

Moreover, officials told the Press that US exerted direct pressure on Egypt, demanding her support of Ukraine even if its support was merely political.

READ: Ukraine diplomat calls on Egypt to take a tougher stance on Russia

Why did Egypt abandon neutrality?

Cairo enjoys a vital partnership with Moscow economically, militarily, and politically to a lesser degree. This partnership is solidified by the two countries’ convergent position on human rights, which is the main disrupting file in Egypt’s relations with the West.

Russia expected Egypt to assume a neutral situation in the Ukrainian crisis. Such a situation was satisfying for Moscow, as Egypt is not a close ally or subordinate to Moscow, like Belarus or Al-Assad’s Syria.

On the other hand, neutrality was insufficient for the US and other western countries, and they expected more from Egypt that built up a solid relationship with the West since late President Anwar Al-Sadat. Therefore, Egypt’s economic partnership with the European Union and the US is much more significant and more profound than her relationship with Russia, despite the resemblance of the political regimes in the two countries.

Nevertheless, it is not expected that Egypt could take further steps in supporting Ukraine rather than presenting human and medical aid and voting for stopping the war in the United Nations. Mainly, Egypt will not sanction Russia or close the Suez Canal against the Russian navy ships. Egypt is keen on keeping liaison with Russia economically and politically.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.