Raouf Saad, former Egyptian ambassador to Russia, said that the visit of Egypt’s “popular diplomacy” delegation to Moscow last week was fruitful and positive, underlining the depth of the historical relations between the two countries.
In an interview with As-Safir, the former foreign minister said that during the meetings, both parties stressed that the development of bilateral relations between the two countries has nothing to do with any other course or diplomatic relations. This can be seen as confirmation that Egypt will not shift positions, but will look after its interest with all parties, whether in the East or West.
As-Safir: First of all, tell us about Egypt’s “popular diplomacy” visit to Russia, of which you were a member.
Saad: This is the first popular diplomatic delegation to visit Moscow since the June 30 Revolution. The visit was part of a completely different framework from any other popular visits to foreign countries. The delegation expressed great appreciation for the Russian stance — which reflected the Egyptian position vis-a-vis the perils of the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood — while Western countries took different stances. During the visit, it was agreed that the Egyptian revolution and the Russian position toward it ought to be a starting point for renewed relations between both countries. We stressed that the bilateral relations between Egypt and Russia are not related to any other course.
As-Safir: How do you assess the results of the visit and the meetings that were held?
Saad: The most important outcome of the visit is that we made it clear to the Russians that Egypt will embark on a new path at the popular level, after long years of confusion. However, it must be noted that the delegation’s visit was not designed to hold negotiations but to converge views. We offered our perceptions of what Russia can provide for the Egyptian people, in terms of training and projects. Moreover, the delegation’s meetings with leaders, officials and representatives of civil society and parliament aimed at paving the way for a new phase of good relations.
As-Safir: What were the most important meetings that were held in Russia?
Saad: The most important meeting was held at the Russian Institute of Oriental Studies, where experts and researchers have shown a great deal of understanding of the situation in Egypt, and awareness of what is happening in Egypt at the regional and international levels. Another significant meeting was held with Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. It lasted for more than three hours, during which all aspects of the bilateral relations were discussed.
As-Safir: Some have linked the delegation’s visit to Russia with Washington’s decision to halt aid, what do you think?
Saad: There is no basis for linking the two issues. Those who made this correlation have based it on poor logic. Diplomatically and publically, Egypt does not see Russia as a substitute for the United States. Moreover, any opposing perspective is not in line with the historic relations between Moscow and Cairo or the history of fruitful cooperation between both countries. We are building a future, and the visit did not aim at developing our relationship with a substitute partner. Russia is not a substitute, rather an authentic partner for Egypt.
As-Safir: What do you think of the Russian intelligence chief’s visit to Egypt now?
Saad: The relationships between the intelligence bodies are continuous, and there are constant intelligence talks with all states. Consequently, this visit was no surprise, especially since the situation in the region in general, and that in the Sinai specifically, is worrying to the Russians. After all, they have suffered a lot under the terrorism practiced by jihadist groups that are interrelated. So, if a group was active in one region, its activity would reach another region at a certain time.
As-Safir: What was your reaction when you saw the photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin raised in the June 30 protests?
Saad: Obviously, Egyptians are mature in their way of thinking. The visit was an automatic expression of the deep awareness and political sense that Egyptians had after they noticed the unjust campaign that was launched by Western countries against their revolution and revolutionary activity. Yet, I think that the visit has two messages. The first is for foreign countries to tell them that we will not remain affiliated with any foreign party. The second is internal and clarifies that the people want to choose their diplomatic inclination and relations.
As-Safir: How do you see US-Egyptian relations, especially after the decision to stop military aid?
Saad: The United States is hesitant and worried about new deals with Egypt. The Egyptian revolution has put Washington in an embarrassing situation, and the United States does not know what it can do next after it has lost its credibility with the Egyptian people, due to its vague and inconsistent stance vis-a-vis the June 30 Revolution. I believe that relations will remain uneasy during the transitional period until a new president is elected.
As-Safir: What do you expect for the Russian-Egyptian relations in the coming period?
Saad: The rapprochement between Egypt and Russia is very important, and it will be welcomed by both countries in the next few months for two reasons. First, Moscow has clear-cut paths to hold dialogue in the Middle East and tighten its relationship with the region. Second, Egypt wants to expand its foreign relations and not limit them to the West.
As-Safir: Do you think that Egypt will shift its attention from the West to the East diplomatically?
Saad: This is not the way things are done anymore. In the past, relations could be channeled in one sense. But, now, relations with a certain country should not be boycotted for any reason. I believe that Egypt has to realize that and change its foreign plans. It should have both the West and the East as economic, political and military targets.
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