Putin Says Egypt Army Chief Al-Seesi to Seek Presidency

Egyptian Defense Minister Abdelfatah al-Seesi has decided to run for the North African nation’s top office, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, endorsing the bid as a “very responsible decision.”

“I know that you, esteemed minister of defense, have decided to seek the office of president,” Putin said today at a meeting with al-Seesi outside Moscow. The Russian leader wished him luck in his resolve to “assume responsibility for the fate of the Egyptian people.”

Al-Seesi, who’s won the green light of the Egyptian military to run for president in imminent elections after leading the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July, hasn’t announced his presidential plans. The minister, who is also army chief, is on his first foreign visit since the ouster to discuss multibillion dollar arms deals with Russia.

“It just reinforces what we have known for a while now that he is going to run for president and he’s going to win,” Hani Sabra, Middle East director at the Eurasia Group, said by phone from Cairo today. Al-Seesi, who has gained popularity at home, is showing that he can succeed on the international stage and be “an accepted face of Egypt.”

Putin, Obama

Putin, looking to capitalize on U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision last year to cut defense aid to Egypt, has been negotiating the biggest weapons contracts with the country since the Cold War. The U.S. Congress is considering a spending bill that would reinstate $1.3 billion in annual military aid, while tying it to the restoration of democracy.

“Allow me to express my deep admiration for you personally,” Al-Seesi said to Putin in remarks translated into Russian. “The Egyptian people greatly value your economic and security assistance.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the two sides had agreed to accelerate talks on arms deals after the foreign and defense chiefs held talks earlier in Moscow.

The negotiations are focusing on $2 billion of Russian weapons contracts, including air-defense systems and anti-tank missiles, Ruslan Pukhov, a member of the Russian Defense Ministry’s advisory board, said yesterday. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to finance Egypt’s purchase of Russian weapons, Al Masry Al Youm newspaper reported Feb. 9.

Egyptian military spokesman Ahmed Mohamed Ali said yesterday that Al-Seesi and Fahmy were reciprocating Lavrov’s and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s “historic visit” to Cairo in November.

November Talks

At the November two-plus-two talks, Russia and Egypt agreed to pursue negotiations on defense cooperation, Lavrov said at the time.

Al-Seesi in Moscow can rely on support for his presidential bid as Russia, unlike the U.S., considers the Egyptian government “100 percent legitimate,” Ziad Akl, senior researcher at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said by phone.

The army chief has presided over a crackdown on Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist organization. Hundreds of people have died in violent clashes between Mursi supporters, security forces and pro-government activists.

“There is some kind of political brainstorming that will take place in Moscow over his candidacy and Russian interests in Egypt under an al-Seesi presidency,” Akl said yesterday.

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