Egypt Analysts Blast U.S. for Risking Pivot as High-Level Delegation Pursues Arms Purchases in Russia

Among the many reasons that normally circumspect analysts harshly criticized the Obama administration’s moves to cut off assistance to Egypt’s army-backed government – the importance of bilateral military ties, the need to support Egyptian counter-terror efforts, etc. – one persistent theme involved the worry that Russia would gladly fill in the vacuum that the U.S. was creating. Tom Nichols and John R. Schindler, foreign policy scholars who by their own descriptions rarely agree on anything, blasted the Obama administration for undermining “nearly seven decades” of bipartisan American efforts aimed at “limiting Moscow’s influence” in the Middle East.

Other foreign policy analysts, including those linked to the administration, insisted that an Egyptian pivot to Russia was unlikely for a variety of reasons. Decades of close cooperation between the Egyptian and American militaries had ensured that Egypt was heavily invested in the American ecosystem, and so purchasing arms from Russia – for instance – was described as an untenable move.

That analysis may turn out to have been premature.

Egyptian Defense Minister and presumptive future president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was in Moscow today. The theme of the visit, per the Times of Israel, is quite explicit:

Egyptian army chief and likely new president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was on Thursday negotiating a $2-billion arms deal with Russia meant to replace subsiding assistance from old ally Washington… “Our visit offers a new start to the development of military and technological cooperation between Egypt and Russia,” Sisi said at the start of Thursday’s meeting in a government mansion in the heart of Moscow. “We hope to speed up this cooperation,” Sisi said.

The visit comes in the aftermath of continued U.S. diplomatic snubs. The White House two weeks ago pointedly declined to invite Egypt to a summit of African leaders. Abdallah Schleifer, a professor emeritus of journalism at the American University in Cairo, can’t begin to guess what Washington is thinking:

That his Russian visit is to Moscow and not Washington – which one would think in light of 40 years of close Egyptian-American relations should have been the natural course of things – discredits U.S. President Barack Obama… Everyone here assumes this will mean a major arms deal on most generous terms, with Russia. And that the purchase will be bankrolled by Saudi Arabia. What an extraordinary accomplishment President Obama will take with him when he retires from office – the same Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which provided 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.

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