How Egypt Became Russia’s Top Tourism Destination

Last week’s plane crash in Sinai may have altered a fledgling economic and political kinship between the two countries.

Alexei Druzhinin / Reuters

On Friday, as my colleague Krishnadev Calamur reported, Russia suspended all flights to Egypt while investigators move to determine whether a bomb brought  down a plane of Russian tourists in Sinai last weekend.

This is particularly bad news for Egypt. Prior to the crash—which now looks increasingly less mysterious—Russia and Egypt were enjoying a renaissance of political and economic ties. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have a strongman bro-ship reminiscent of the days when Gamal Abdul Nasser and Nikita Khrushchev were diverting the Nile together.

During Sisi’s visit to Moscow in August, the third since Sisi took power in 2014, the two men discussed creating a free-trade zone and building a nuclear power plant in Egypt. Putin was also the first major head of state to visit Egypt since the reign of Sisi began.

With the ruble buckling under the weight of Western sanctions and low oil prices, Russian tourists have been eschewing Italy and Spain to flock to Egypt, where Russian currency still holds up well—and Russian visitors enjoy ease of travel. According to the AP, three million Russian tourists visited Egypt last year, making up one-third of all visitors to the country in 2014. Rosstat, Russia’s statistics bureau, adds that nearly 20 percent of all Russians traveling abroad went to Egypt in the first half of this year.

These are huge numbers for Egypt, which hasn’t seen its tourism numbers fully rebound since Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was deposed in 2011 during the early days of the Arab Spring. With carriers and countries now limiting travel in the wake of last week’s crash, those numbers may crater again.