Russia, Egypt match at World Cup could test close ties

2018-06-18 21:23


Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Not since the Cold War days of the 1950s and 1960s has Egypt been as close to Russia as it is now.

But could the outcome of a crucial World Cup clash between the two nations damage their relations?

Probably not, but as is frequently the case with soccer, Tuesday's game in St. Petersburg - home to most of the 224 victims of a 2015 Russian plane crash over Egypt - might test these ties given how high the stakes are.

For Egypt, a draw or a win is crucial to keep alive its hopes of advancing from the group after it lost its opening match 1-0 to Uruguay on Friday. A loss would leave the Egyptians with a mathematical chance of survival.

The Russians are in better shape. They thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0 on Thursday and will be looking for maximum points from the Egypt game, which could ensure progression before their final group game against Uruguay on June 25.

The Russians, the lowest FIFA ranked team in the 32-nation tournament, will be riding high from being on home territory and will want to prove that their emphatic win over the Saudis wasn't a fluke. The Egyptians, on the other hand, are striving not to lose two consecutive games in their first World Cup campaign in 28 years and disappoint millions of fans at home.

Thousands of Egyptian fans, some flying to St Petersburg on private jets, are expected to be at the stadium on Tuesday rubbing shoulders with Russian fans.

But Egypt's social media users and influential talk show anchors are notorious for harming their country's relations with foreign nations, including close allies and economic benefactors. Their narratives, which sometimes disagree with government policy but often reflect popular sentiment, include abuse and unsubstantiated accusations.

Russia itself came close to being targeted when Egyptian officials, impatient to see Russian tourists back, said they were vexed by what they saw as Russia's unexplained delays in lifting a flight ban imposed after the 2015 crash. Moscow lifted the ban in April and says it will later this year end the suspension of flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian Red Sea resort from which the doomed flight took off.

So, any sign of unsportsmanlike conduct by the Russians, like a rough tackle, faking injury or diving in the box, would likely be pounced upon and blown out of proportion as has been the case in the past. For example, Egypt was gripped last month by anger and hate speech directed at Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos after Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah was injured in a challenge with him during the Champions League final in Kiev.

Salah's shoulder injury meant he was an unused substitute for Egypt in the Uruguay match, but the Egyptian is widely expected to start the match against Russia.

* Sign up to News24's top Africa news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO THE HELLO AFRICA NEWSLETTER

FOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook

Neither Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi nor Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will be at the St Petersburg Stadium to watch the match. Putin is scheduled to be in Minsk, Belarus, according to his spokesperson, Dimitry Peskov. Al-Sisi's government just lifted state subsidies for fuel, drinking water and electricity, a move that Egyptians protested on social media.

Putin and al-Sisi have developed a personal rapport since Egypt's general-turned-president took office in 2014. That relationship has been the driving force behind the two countries' close ties, which are partially due to Cairo's multibillion dollar purchases of Russian arms, the selection of a Russian company to build Egypt's first nuclear power station and Moscow's desire to expand its foothold in the Middle East.

Al-Sisi and Putin share a background in intelligence and a near disdain for Western-style democracy, and both concentrate real power in their hands. Security is also high on the agenda of the two men, who show little tolerance for dissent.

Egypt's ties with Russia date back to the 1950s and 1960s, when Cairo was a close ally at the height of the Cold War. A 1955 deal to buy Soviet weapons through Czechoslovakia brought Egypt into the Soviet camp despite Cairo's efforts to remain non-aligned. Moscow later agreed to build a massive hydroelectric dam on the Nile in southern Egypt after the World Bank, reportedly at Washington's behest, declined to finance the project.

Egypt changed sides in the 1970s under then 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 in 1979.

Read more on:    fifa  |  egypt  |  north africa  |  fifa 2018 world cup

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.