In late April 2013, during a meeting in Sochi— a Black Sea resort city on Russia's border with Georgia and Abkhazia – Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for a large loan--$2 or $3 billion, depending on press reports. Morsi came to Russia with a ministerial delegation, including Minister of Investment Ossama Saleh, Minister of Petroleum Ossama Kamal, Minister of Agriculture Salah Abdel Moemen, and Minister of Electricity and Energy Ahmed Imam.
Morsi has been courting Putin and Russia for some time now, seeking greater cooperation on many fronts, including tourism and investment. The following excerpts illustrate how some in Russia see Egypt's interest in building closer ties with their country.
The first is an opinion by Anton Barbashin of the youth-oriented Moskovskiy Komsomolets. Barbashin had previously published another opinion in the same paper urging Russia to improve relations with the United States, as Russia risks becoming China's "raw material appendage." Barbashin argues that the Kremlin should not help Morsi with loans: his hold on power is tenuous at best and Russia is unlikely to get its money back. Morsi has turned increasingly authoritarian (indeed many Egyptians call him "second Mubarak"), and support for Morsi means support for only one segment of Egypt's population, not all Egyptian citizens.
The second is an article by Maria Gorkovskaya from a more centrist Izvestiya (News). Gorkovskaya reports on Egyptian authorities' attempts to bring in more tourists, particularly Russian tourists. She writes that economic realities since 2010, when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, have overtaken religious considerations in Cairo. To encourage tourism, the Egyptian authorities have had to accept that tourists will drink alcohol and women will wear swim suits.
Russian tourists had been the largest group to visit Egypt prior to 2010, and they would be the most likely primary target of the new policy towards alcohol and bathing suits. As tourists lost interest in Egypt in the last two years, the economy suffered gravely; Russian tourists alone could bring $3.2 billion to Egypt annually, according to the article. Russian authorities, for their part, hope that the flow of Russian tourists to Egypt will increase, showing that the Kremlin too is interested in a cooperative relationship with Cairo.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been on Russia's list of terrorist organizations since 2003. Nonetheless, Russia has not only cooperated with the new Egyptian leadership but also stepped up this cooperation in late 2012, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went on a Middle East tour, making Egypt his first stop.
Putin has not rushed to grant Morsi the loans he requested in April 2013. Still, the Kremlin and Cairo continue to cooperate economically in other spheres as Cairo seeks Russian tourists and other business investments to save the Egyptian economy, and Putin works to extend Russia's influence in the Middle East. It is no accident that Morsi noted in Sochi that he views Russia's role as very important in the international arena. He knows what Putin wants to hear. Russia's relations with Egypt will remain important to watch in the months ahead.