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Egyptian historic breakthrough with Russia, not a strategic shift yet

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Senior associate of the CarnegieMiddle EastCenter, Yezid Sayigh wrote on August 1, 2012 that the United States "will continue keeping a balance between its relations with the (then) Egyptian president  (Mohamed Morsi) and the Egyptian army.  The balance will always shift to the side that ensures the continuity of Egypt's commitment to the following:  The Camp David Peace Treaty, the retention of a demilitarized Sinai, retaining multinational troops and observers led by the US, maintaining gas exports to Israel, isolating Hamas, resisting Iran's efforts to expand its influence, resisting al-Qaida, and keeping the Suez Canal open." (Emphasis added).

These are the bedrocks of Egypt's strategic alliance with the US and because they were and are still safe in good hands under both the removed president Morsi and the prospective president al-Sisi, it will be premature to conclude that the revived Egyptian -- Russians relations indicate any strategic departure therefrom.

Preserving or discarding these Egyptian commitments is the litmus test to judge whether Egypt's revival of its Russian ties is a strategic maneuver or a strategic departure.

Other indicators include the financial and political sponsorship of al-Sisi's government by none other than the very close Arab allies of the US, like Jordan and in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, who had already together pledged twenty billion dollars in aid to al-Sisi and reportedly are funding his armaments deal with Russia.

Saudi Al Arabia satellite TV station on this February 13 quoted Abdallah Schleifer, a professor emeritus of journalism at the American University in Cairo, as sarcastically questioning President Barak Obama's performance: "What an extraordinary accomplishment President Obama will take with him when he retires from office -- Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which provided (late Egyptian president) Anwar Sadat with both moral and financial backing to break with the Russians in the early 1970s and turn towards the United States -- may now finance an Egyptian arms deal with the Russians," Schleifer said.

Al-Sisi's supposed "Nasserist" and "pan-Arab" orientation could not be consistent, for example, with inviting the defense ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Bahrain, Morocco, and their Jordanian counterpart Prime Minister Abdullah al-Nsour to attend the 40th anniversary celebrations of the 1973 October War. Syria was Egypt's partner in that war and Jamal Abdul Nasser's major "pan-Arab" ally, but it was not represented. The countries which were represented were seriously against Abdul Nasser's Egypt and its pan-Arab ideology, but more importantly they were and still are strategic allies of his US-led enemies and peace partners of Israel.

US Aid Counterproductive

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US whistleblowers warning of an Egyptian strategic shift are abundant as part of blasting Obama for his foreign policy blunders. For example, US foreign policy scholars Tom Nichols and John R. Schindler, quoted on this February 13 by The Tower.org staff, who agree that they rarely agree on anything, are agreeing now that Obama's administration is undermining "nearly seven decades" of bipartisan American efforts aimed at "limiting Moscow's influence" in the Middle East.

But Nael Shama , writing on Middle East Institute website on last December 16, said: " It can be argued that Egypt's flirtation with Russia does not mean a shift in the country's foreign policy away from the United States as much as an attempt to induce the United States to shift its Egypt policy back to where it was before " in order to pressure the United States and to arouse concern among American politicians about the prospect of losing Egypt, encouraging them to amend unfavorable policies."

The Obama administration welcomed al-Sisi's assumption of power by calling off the biannual joint US-Egypt military exercise "Bright Star" and halting the delivery of military hardware to Egypt, including F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, Harpoon missiles, and tank parts and when Last January the US Congress approved a spending bill that would restore $1.5bn in aid to Egypt, it was on the condition (emphasis added) that the Egyptian government ensures democratic reform.

Le Monde Diplomatique in November last year quoted veteran arms trade expert Sergio Finardi as saying that the US aid money "never leaves US banks, and is mostly transferred not to the target country but to US defense manufacturers that sell the equipment to Egypt."

More important, US aid money is attached to Egypt's commitment to the peace treaty with Israel. Such a commitment is compromising Egyptian sovereignty in Sinai, which has become a no-man land where organized crime, illegal trade in arms and terrorist groups enjoy a free hand with a heavy price in Egyptian souls and governance.

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Either the provisions of the peace treaty are amended, or the American conditions for aid are dropped altogether or at least reconsidered to allow Egypt to fully exercise its sovereignty in Sinai, or Egypt would look elsewhere for alternative empowerment, for example to start " a new era of constructive, fruitful co-operation on the military level" with Russia as al-Sisi told his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, according to the official Egyptian news agency MENA on last November 14.

All the foregoing aside, Egypt wants to modernize its military-industrial complex per se. Shana Marshall , associate director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and research instructor at the George Washington University, quoted by http://www.jadaliyya.com/ on this February 10, called this "Egypt's Other Revolution." The thirty five-year old arrangements with the United States are not helping out, but worse they have become the main obstacle to fulfill this aspiration.

All these and other factors indicate that al-Sisi is in fact pursuing vital Egyptian national interests and not seeking a strategic shift in his country's alliance with the US. The Russian opening is his last resort. It is highly possible that he might backtrack should Washington decide not to repeat its historical mistake when it refused to positively respond to similar Egyptian military and development aspirations in the fifties of the twentieth century, which pushed Egypt into the open arms of the former Soviet Union.

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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

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Fantastic news! Piece by piece israhell is being ... by Bill Johnson on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 7:56:27 AM