Cairo, Moscow sign contract for Egypt's first nuclear plant

Cairo, Moscow sign contract for Egypt's first nuclear plant
Moscow and Cairo signed a final contract on Monday that will see energy hungry Egypt light up with its first nuclear power plant.
4 min read
11 December, 2017
Putin (L) and Sisi are emerging as close allies amid warming Egyptian-Russian relations [AFP]
A final contract for the construction of Egypt's first nuclear power plant was signed on Monday, during a visit to Cairo by President Vladimir Putin.

The contract to build the plant in Dabaa - on the Mediterranean coast - was signed during a ceremony screened on state television and attended by the Russian leader and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

It was Putin's second visit to Egypt in as many years, and this time held talks with his Egyptian counterpart on their countries' rapidly expanding ties.

Egypt's general-turned-president Sisi has visited Russia three times since he ousted his Islamist predecessor in a coup in 2013. After taking office, Sisi has bought billions of dollars worth of Russian weapons, including fighter jets and assault helicopters.

Last month Moscow approved a draft agreement with Cairo to allow Russian warplanes to use Egyptian military bases.

The deal marked a significant leap in bilateral ties and evidence of Moscow's expanding military role in a turbulent Middle East. That deal, if it goes through, will likely irk the United States, until now a top Egypt military ally.

Putin flew to Cairo after a brief and previously unannounced visit to a Russian military air base in Syria.

Hmeimem has served as the main foothold for Russia's air campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which helped turn the tide of the war against rebel groups when Moscow began air strikes in 2015.

Sisi met Putin at Cairo's international airport and the two leaders later went straight to the presidential Ittahidyah palace in Cairo's upscale Heliopolis suburb where talks got underway.

Read more: New best friends: Putin in Cairo and Ankara as Washington loses Middle East influence

Egypt's currently close ties with Russia harken back to the 1950s and 1960s, when Cairo became Moscow's closest Arab ally during the peak years of the Cold War.

Egypt changed allies in the 1970s under the late President Anwar Sadat, who replaced Moscow with Washington as his country's chief economic and military backer following the signing of a US-sponsored peace treaty with Israel.

Egypt has since become a major recipient of US economic and military aid.

Under Sisi, Egypt has been able to maintain close ties with both Russia and the United States - something that would have been unthinkable during the Cold War.

Cairo has not been able to persuade Moscow to resume its flights to Egypt, suspended since October 2015 when the Islamic State group downed a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.

Egypt has since spent millions of dollars to upgrade security at its airports and undergone numerous checks by Russian experts to ascertain the level of security at the facilities.

The suspension of Russian flights has dealt a devastating blow to Egypt's vital tourism industry. The UK, another major source of visitors, has since the Russian airliner's crash also suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, a Red Sea resort in Sinai from which the Russian airliner took off shortly before it crashed.

"Your Excellency: When will Russian tourism return to Egypt?" read the front-page banner headline in a Cairo daily loyal to the government, in both Arabic and Russian.

Egypt has quietly supported Russia's military involvement in the Syrian civil war, a policy that had clashed with the position taken by Saudi Arabia, Cairo's chief ally and financial backer.

The Saudis, however, have gradually softened their opposition to Russian involvement there and taken a host of steps to thaw decades of frosty relations with Moscow.

Both the Saudis and Egyptians, according to analysts, are now hoping that Russia's presence in Syria would help curtail the growing influence of Iran, whose expanding leverage in the region has been a source of alarm to both Cairo and Riyadh.

Egypt, meanwhile, has been raising its own profile in Syria, negotiating local cease-fires between government and opposition forces with the blessing of both Damascus and Moscow.