Egypt’s national interests rest in maintaining its multi-alignment between Russia and the US.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that Egypt still plays a major role in facilitating Russian military flights to and from Syria despite the US’ demands to block them. With neighboring Turkiye, Iraq, and Jordan all cutting off access through their airspace, Russia has been forced to take a roundabout route via Azerbaijan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. If not for the latter, then this detour would be even longer, thus racking up additional financial and opportunity costs.
The US should have known better than to demand that Egypt block Russian military flights, however, since those two have many shared interests that make Cairo second-guess the wisdom of ruining ties with Moscow. They both reportedly support Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, albeit to different extents, whose continued fight against the Turkish-backed government in Tripoli serves Egypt’s national security interests. Moreover, these countries have common friends in the Gulf, which binds them together.
After all, Saudi Arabia plays just as major of a role in facilitating Russian military flights to and from Syria as Egypt does, and Riyadh is known for historically being a much closer American ally than Cairo. The Kingdom’s defiance of Washington’s demands, driven both by its Crown Prince’s pro-sovereignty grand strategy in general and his country’s growing full-spectrum ties with Russia in particular, inspired Egypt to follow suit. It’s also no small matter that Saudi Arabia is one of Egypt’s top financiers too.
Segueing to the economic reasons behind Cairo’s decision, three stand out the most. First, Russian tourists contribute a lot to local businesses. Second, Egypt has become more reliant on Russian wheat over the past year due to the West’s artificially manufactured food crisis. And third, that Eurasian Great Power is building four nuclear power plants on its top North African partner’s territory. Everything shared in the preceding three paragraphs could be endangered if Egypt blocks Russian military flights.
That said, it would be inaccurate to conclude that Egypt has taken Russia’s side over the US’ in the New Cold War, especially in light of the latest Pentagon leaks claiming that it complied with Washington’s demand not to secretly arm Moscow in favor of sending weapons to Kiev instead. None of the four involved parties confirmed that report, but if it’s true, then it represents a Machiavellian version of multi-alignment. If false, then it still doesn’t make Egypt a Russian ally, just a privileged strategic partner.
Analyzing this scandal based purely on Egypt’s geostrategic position in the New Cold War, the argument can be made that it might indeed be secretly arming Kiev in order to not rile Washington too much upon defying its demand to cut off Russia’s military flights. There’s a certain logic to this balancing act too no matter how Machiavellian it might be. Just like Russia still wants to sell oil to Pakistan despite Islamabad reportedly arming Kiev, so too might it still retain strategic ties with Cairo in spite of it doing the same.
What’s most important to Russia in each pair of relations is for Pakistan to become a reliable energy customer, which could in turn help stabilize its economic-financial crisis and thus avert a larger regional one if it continues deteriorating, and for Egypt to not impede its air corridor to Syria. So long as these two goals are met, then the Kremlin will likely remain reluctant to take punitive measures against them if they’re truly arming Kiev like reports claim.
Returning to Egypt’s national interests, these rest in maintaining its multi-alignment, in particular between Russia and the US. Unilaterally ruining ties with Moscow could have devastating consequences for Cairo’s national security in Libya and risk crippling its economy too, while too blatantly defying Washington could eventually provoke various forms of Hybrid War pressure. Amidst such a dilemma, it was natural for Egypt to make some concessions to the US via its reported arming of Kiev.
What was unrealistic, however, was expecting it to inflict inordinate damage to Russia’s national security by cutting off its military flights to and from Syria. The only reason why this was demanded by the US in the first place is because it never appreciates its partner’s national interests, which explains why it continues pressuring India to dump Moscow just like it does the same to Brazil. The US isn’t content with India sharing its concern about China’s rise nor Lula being ideologically allied with its ruling Democrats.
Similarly, Egypt’s votes in support of anti-Russian UNGA Resolutions and its reported arming of Kiev aren’t appreciated by America either, which demands full compliance with its diktats and thus wants it to cut off that country’s military flights to and from Syria too. Cairo wisely decided to defy Washington on this because it knows how disadvantageous Moscow’s response could be for its objective national interests, ergo why Egypt continues playing a major role for Russia in this respect.