Sisi cast as statesman in Russia visit

February 15, 2014 - 12:26:08 am

 Russian President Vladimir Putin with Egyptian Defence Minister Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, as Foreign Minister of Egypt Nabil Fahmy looks on after their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, yesterday.

CAIRO: Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah Al Sisi appeared to further set the stage this week for a presidential bid when he travelled to Russia, where President Vladimir Putin endorsed him as leader-in-waiting.

It was Sisi’s first trip abroad since he overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July, setting off months of deadly unrest.

The visit was aimed at improving relations between the once-close allies, after Cairo and Washington fell out over Mursi’s overthrow.

Russia and Egypt are nearing a $3bn arms purchase agreement that will be financed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a Moscow newspaper reported yesterday.

The two sides have already either “initialled or signed” contracts for Egypt’s purchase of Mig-29 fighters, air and coastal defence systems, Mi-35 attack helicopters and smaller arms, the Vedomosti daily quoted two Russian government sources as saying.

The report came out one day after talks in Moscow between Putin and Al Sisi. Cairo has turned to Moscow, which was its main arms supplier in the 1960s and early 1970s, after Washington cut back assistance to its regional ally over the army-backed overthrow in July of democratically elected Mohamed Mursi.

As Sisi sat down with Putin at his residence outside Moscow, some suggested the visit was a carefully choreographed publicity stunt, with Sisi looking the part of an international statesman alongside the Russian strongman.

The field marshal, who is officially defence minister and deputy premier in the government that replaced ousted Islamist Mohamed Mursi, travelled to Moscow ostensibly in response to a November visit by Russia’s defence and foreign ministers.

From the moment he boarded the plane to Moscow dressed in a blazer, local media cast him as a president-in-waiting boldly moving Egypt away from dependence on the oft-reviled United States.

In Moscow, that perception was reinforced by Putin, who publicly congratulated Sisi on his yet undeclared decision to run for office. The 59-year-old Sisi is overwhelmingly expected to run in elections this spring.

Issandr El Amrani, North Africa project director at International Crisis Group, said the visit might have been intended as much for show as substance.

It was part of a “carefully orchestrated process by which he would declare his candidacy,” El Amrani said.

“There was the publication of pictures in which Sisi is seen for the first time in civilian attire, and he gets to stand next to a world leader like Putin,” he said.

The military, which has meticulously cultivated the enigmatic field marshal’s image, splashed the pictures on its Facebook page.

State television showed images of Sisi appearing to nod off on the plane with a satisfied look on his face. Supported unquestioningly by much of the domestic media, Sisi was certain to generate positive headlines during his visit, accompanied by Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy. “Russia backs Sisi as president,” read the banner of the mass circulation privately owned Al Masry Al Youm newspaper.

The headlines appeared to play well with Egyptians who back Sisi because they want a strong leader to stabilise the country, in turmoil ever since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, another military officer turned president. “Putin said he would invest in Egypt,” said Sameh, a man who works in the badly hit tourism industry.AFP

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