President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is set to hold talks in Russia with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, whilst on his way to visit China in September. The news comes over a weekend that has also seen strongly positive messages with regards to relations with Saudia Arabia, France and even Qatar.
Presidential spokesperson Alaa Youssef told privately-owned satellite TV channel, Al-Hayat, on Friday that preparations are ongoing for a “summit” between the two leaders in Russia. Youssef did not, however, specify a date for the meeting.
On Saturday, Al-Sisi met with a special envoy sent by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Youssef also stated on Friday that Al-Sisi will pay a visit to China in the first week of September, in response to an invitation from Jinping.
It is expected that the meeting between Putin and Al-Sisi will be held around the time of the latter’s visit to China, as part of Al-Sisi’s tour abroad.
The Chinese president extended the invitation to Al-Sisi in May, during a bilateral meeting following Russia’s Victory Day celebrations.
Al-Sisi’s first visit outside the Middle East following his inauguration was to China, where he gave a speech before the Egyptian-Chinese Business Council. During his speech, Al-Sisi invited Chinese investors and companies to actively participate in the Economic Summit that took place in Sharm El-Sheikh last March.
During Al-Sisi’s last visit to Russia, he discussed with Putin the establishment of a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Customs Union (EACU), as well as the development of mutual trade and agricultural business.
Head of Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s office for the Egypt – EU Partnership Agreement and former ambassador to Moscow Raouf Mosaad told Daily News Egypt that the Al-Sisi-Putin meeting was agreed upon during inauguration of the New Suez Canal project when the Egyptian president met with Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Mosaad said that he thinks economic agreements regarding the investment in the Suez Canal Axis Development project and discussing the situation in Syria will top the agenda of the talks between the two leaders.
“Speeding a Russian decision to start investments in the Suez Canal axis will be on the table of the discussion,” said the diplomat.
He also added that such a decision can speed up similar decisions in other European and Asian capitals.
“The Syrian file needs a meeting of the top level,” Mosaad added, saying that both Egypt and Russia fight against the fall of the Syrian state into the hands of “terrorist organisations”.
The former ambassador rubbished speculations that the time of announcing visits to Russia and China relates to the latest visit of the US secretary of State John Kerry to Egypt and the holding of a Strategic Dialogue between the two countries, asserting that Egypt doesn’t replace a partner with another.
In a sign of the improving bilateral relations that Egypt’s vast spending on military equipment is buying, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are said to be in a race to purchase two French aircraft carriers in a bid to strengthen military naval power in the region.
Two helicopter carriers Mistral were originally built by French manufacturers to be sold to Russia before a deal fell through following the development of crisis in Ukraine.
French media reported that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are “ready to purchase” the warships.
French President Francois Hollande and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi discussed Egypt’s possible acquisition of the two helicopter carriers on the sidelines of an inauguration ceremony for an expansion of the Suez Canal, Reuters news agency reported.
A spokesperson for DCNS, the manufacturing company that produces the naval vessels, told Daily News Egypt that only the French government is entitled to comment on the news. However, the French embassy in Cairo was not available to comment.
The recently announced “Cairo Declaration” that enhances the cooperation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia will have a first on-ground presence if such a deal was struck.
Egypt recently received three Rafale fighter jets and a FREMM frigate within a military cooperation deal with the French government that is worth a total of €5.2bn, and has been financed with the help of a €3.2bn loan by the French government.
The Saudi-French relations also enjoy great stability as the French investments in the gulf kingdom weigh what is worth of $15bn while the Saudi investments in France amount €553bn.
In a further positive sign for Cairo, an ongoing, quiet rapprochement appears to be taking place between Qatar and Egypt. Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah, spoke via the satellite TV channel Al-Araby on Friday to claim that relations between the Gulf state and Egypt are not as sour as Egyptian media portrays.
Al-Attiyah said that, despite the commonly-held view, cooperation between Qatar and Egypt is good: “What is actually going on between Cairo and Doha is different from what the media is portraying… [relations] are as normal as those with any other Arab state. There are only political differences.”
Relations between Qatar and Egypt took a dive following the 2013 ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi by an Al-Sisi-led military. Morsi had been close ally of Doha and, as public opinion turned against his Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar was singled out by Egyptian media and the public for supporting his cause after he was deposed. Morsi is currently facing trial on espionage charges for the alleged leaking of national security information to Doha.
He suggested that his government does not give time to the narrative of the Egyptian media: “If Qatar is to give attention to whatever is said through the Egyptian media, there would be a big problem, but we would rather not heed what is said,” the minister added. His comments seem evidenced by the presence of Qatar’s Minister of Transportation Jassim Saif Al-Sulaiti at the opening celebration of the new Suez Canal project on Thursday.
Egyptian media have continuously portrayed Qatar, alongside Turkey, as a terrorist supporting state and interfering in domestic affairs, as the Muslim Brotherhood movement became designated as a terrorist movement by the new Egyptian regime and media. Qatari media has also been a key issue as the Doha-based network Al Jazeera has famously had three of its journalists imprisoned in Egypt and the critical Arabic-language television channel has been a sticking point for Egyptian authorities.
But in a nod to the remaining political differences, Al-Attiyah said he hopes that Egypt will adopt a national dialogue that includes all political perspectives; a clear reference to the ongoing crackdown against the Brotherhood.