CAIRO — Landing today in Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, Russian leader Vladimir Putin was given a hero’s welcome by state-run media that normally reserves such propaganda for their own heads of state.
On Sunday, the flagship state newspaper ran a front-page spread showing Putin bare-chested and declaring the Russian leader "a hero of our time."
The accompanying text was a fawning, 1,000-word profile of a mysterious intelligence operative that advanced to lead Russia in the wake of the Cold War. The story echoed a similar tale promoted by Egyptian outlets since a military coup in 2013: that of a humble military intelligence officer thrust reluctantly into power by the chaos of the Arab Spring.
That Egypt's media sees Sissi, a former head of military intelligence, and Putin as having comparable backgrounds has helped feed the narrative that Russia is far better suited than the United States to be the country's chief ally.
State-owned media has long, and unsurprisingly, served as a mouthpiece of the government, praising former president Hosni Mubarak and later covering positively the administration of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. But in the wave of nationalism that swept the country following Sissi's coup against Morsi, state-owned Al-Ahram and even private media outlets have treated the military leader with particular reverence. Editors have signed a declaration promising to limit negative coverage of state institutions like the military and judiciary.
Putin, like Sissi, is therefore seen as a virile strongman who crushes dissent and stands up to the West. Having battled Russia's own Islamist insurgency in Chechnya in the 1990s, Putin is viewed as sympathetic to Egypt's own fight against terrorism.
"Putin understands that an intelligence officer never retires," the profile in Al-Ahram newspaper reads, flanked by photos of the Russian leader performing Judo, in a suit, and at the firing range.
"He always wanted to be independent," the profile says, fusing Putin's maverick streak with what Egyptian media has portrayed as Sissi's own attempts to chart his own foreign policy course.
Putin and Sissi will discuss bilateral trade, regional security and possibly finalize deals to furnish Egypt with advanced Russian weapons systems.
A separate Al-Ahram op-ed written by a former Egyptian ambassador to Moscow says there are "promising horizons" for Egyptian-Russian relations, because Russian interests "coincide with Egyptian interests" in the region.
"This new direction in [Putin's] foreign policy was very well calculated," the op-ed says.