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Egyptian historic breakthrough with Russia, not a strategic shift yet

By       Message Nicola Nasser     Permalink
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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."

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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.

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.

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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.

"Abject Failure' of US Aid

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For Egypt to look now for Russian armament and economic help means that the Egyptian -- US strategic cooperation since 1979 has failed to cater for its defense needs and development aspirations.

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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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