CAIRO — In May 1958, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser started an 18-day state visit to Russia, a visit that officially marked a recalibration of Egyptian foreign policy away from the Western sphere, and toward the Soviet camp. Fifty-five years later, an Egyptian popular diplomatic delegation headed to Moscow in a visit that was described as fruitful and positive. The past is a prologue that can safely be applied to the current Egyptian-Russian relationship. In fact, many members of the delegation are known for their affection toward Russia. Actor Ezzat Al-Alayli spoke in a TV interview about the visit and how it rekindled past memories of his time in Russia in the sixties. Indeed, the sixties were the peak of this partnership, and Nasser’s tenure was marked by strong ties with the Russians —from military dependency to infrastructure projects, such as the Aswan High Dam, educational missions and even tourism.
The fascination, and dependency on Russia did not last. In 1972, Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, ordered 20,000 Soviet military advisers and their dependents out of the country. The relationship between the two countries was formally ended by another high-profile visit in 1974, when America’s President Richard M. Nixon was warmly greeted in Cairo, not just by Sadat, but also by vast crowds that lined the streets. Many spectators even climbed lampposts to greet the seemingly bemused Nixon, who obviously did not expect such a warm reception by the Egyptian public. Thirty-seven years later, equally bemused American policy-makers are watching Egypt drifting away again and warming up to its old friend Russia.