Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Russia will help Egypt build its first nuclear power plant, the leaders of both countries said on Tuesday, as Russian President Vladimir Putin wrapped up a two-day official visit to the Egyptian capital.
At a joint press conference, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said both countries signed a memorandum of understanding to build the plant, along with other agreements signed to boost Russian gas sales and investment in Egypt.
“If final decisions are made, it will mean not just building a nuclear power plant, it means the creation of the entire new atomic industry in Egypt,” Putin told reporters at the conference.
The new plant will be built in El-Dabaa, 104 miles (168 kilometers) west of Alexandria, on the site of an existing research reactor built by the Soviets during the 1950s.
In comments carried by Russian news agencies, Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia’s state-owned nuclear company, said the plant would be equipped with four 1,200-megawatt reactors.
Egypt has suffered chronic electricity shortages in recent years, especially during the peak summer period, when it struggles to meet domestic demand.
Top Egyptian and Russian officials met last November in order to discuss an agreement to help use nuclear power to generate electricity in Egypt and restart its nuclear program, which began during 1954–1961 when it acquired the 2-megawatt reactor in El-Dabaa from the Soviet Union.
Since then there have been several attempts to breathe new life into the stalled nuclear power program in Egypt, but none have seen the light of day.
The new plant is one of several joint projects that have been announced during Putin’s visit.
A deal was also signed between both countries to create a Russian industrial zone along the Suez Canal, along with other agreements to help boost the number of Russian tourists visiting Egypt.
Deals have also reportedly been signed to supply Egypt with Russian arms, according to the Interfax news agency, with Egypt Russia’s first foreign customers for its Antei-2500 long-range air defense missile systems, although these reports remain unconfirmed by either party.
Russo–Egyptian relations have enjoyed a resurgence since July 2013, after the Egyptian military ousted former president and senior Muslim Brotherhood figure, Mohamed Mursi.
Relations were at their strongest between the two countries during the height of the Cold War in the 1960s, when Egypt’s Arab socialist president Gamal Abdel Nasser courted Soviet leaders keen to secure a key ally in the Middle East at the expense of the United States.
The Soviets helped fund a number of projects in Egypt including the High Dam in Aswan and also helped arm and train the Egyptian military.
But the relationship faltered after Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat came to power in 1970. He signed a peace deal with Israel later in the decade and began a shift in Egypt’s diplomatic focus from Moscow to Washington which continued for over three decades.
Ties with Washington have been strained since Mursi’s ouster, however, and Egypt has signaled that it is keen to renew its relationship with Moscow. Sisi visited Russia twice in 2014, once as defense minister and chief of the army in February, and then again as president in August.
Putin’s trip is his second official visit to Egypt, after a 2005 visit during the rule of president Hosni Mubarak.
In scenes reminiscent of US President Richard Nixon’s visit to Egypt in 1974, Cairo’s streets were lined with signs and billboards welcoming the Russian leader.
Following a greeting ceremony at the Cairo Opera House, both leaders met at the Presidential Palace and then had dinner at the famous Cairo Tower. Putin also presented Sisi with a Kalashnikov rifle as a gift.