Egypt, Greece and Cyprus sign deal to link power grids

Agreement points to three nations' resolve to cement alliance built around Eastern Mediterranean gas hub

Egypt, Greece and Cyprus on Tuesday signed a major agreement to link their electricity grids, a move that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi described as a first step towards connecting the three nations’ grids with the rest of Europe.

The agreement was the latest sign of increasingly close and wide-ranging relations binding the three nations, which are already partnering on an ambitious energy project to turn the Eastern Mediterranean into a major natural gas hub.

Their alliance is also partially designed to counter the growing influence of Turkey in the Middle East and check Ankara’s attempts to muscle in on the energy project, after large natural gas reserves were found in the area.

“It’s my personal pleasure to witness with you today the signing of the tripartite agreement to link our electricity grids,” Mr El Sisi said after meeting in Athens on Tuesday with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

“It’s a preliminary step that takes us near the common goal what we aspire to, which is to eventually link with the rest of Europe,” said the Egyptian leader.

Tuesday’s agreement follows the signing this month of an agreement on the project. The document states that it will involve an undersea cable that is 1,396 kilometres long with a cost of $2.7 billion.

The cable, which will be the world’s longest, will allow the three Mediterranean nations to share up to 2,000 megawatts at peak times, the document said.

Egypt has in recent years become an exporter of electricity, thanks to a national, multibillion-dollar undertaking mostly with Germany’s power company Siemens, to increase power generation. It already has plans to link its electricity grid with Sudan, Libya, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Egypt, Greece and Cyprus have forged close political and economic ties since Mr El Sisi took office in 2014. At the heart of their alliance, which has consistently opposed Turkey's regional ambitions, is their joint effort to turn the East Mediterranean into an international energy hub.

Greece and Cyprus have long been at odds with Turkey, but current animosity now centres on a territorial dispute in the Aegean Sea that is feeding tension between Athens and Ankara.

Cyprus and Turkey, on the other hand, have been at loggerheads since 1974, when the latter invaded the Mediterranean island, ostensibly to protect the Turkish minority there. It has since occupied a third of the Greek-majority island.

Turkey has also been trying to be included in the Eastern Mediterranean energy project, defiantly sending vessels to drill illegally off the coast of Cyprus. Its actions have drawn EU sanctions and growing regional suspicion of its policies.

Egypt has been at odds with Turkey, too, over a range of bilateral and regional issues, but the two countries have held two rounds of talks since May to try to improve relations.

Alluding to what is frequently described by the three nations as Turkey’s menacing behaviour, the Egyptian leader said it was necessary to maintain the “unity and sovereignty of the region’s nations and halt any meddling in their internal affairs".

“Also necessary is the respect for the maritime security of each nation, which is an integral part of the region’s security.”

Tuesday’s meeting in Athens – the ninth since 2014 – also coincided with an announcement by the Egyptian military that naval ships from Greece and Egypt took part in joint war games in the Mediterranean on Tuesday.

Similar war drills have been frequent between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, with past war games involving air power, commandos and navy vessels.

Updated: October 19th 2021, 6:15 PM