Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Shades of containment

Egyptian management of its relations with the Arab-Persian Gulf is yet to be clearly formulated, reports Dina Ezzat

Al-Ahram Weekly

The visit by President Mohamed Morsi this week to Saudi Arabia to head the Egyptian delegation to the Arab Economic Summit failed to break the ice between Cairo and the vast majority of Arab Gulf states — not excluding Saudi Arabia that Morsi has visited three times since he came to power on 30 June; and with the only exception of Qatar whose leaders meet with the president on a monthly basis.

Qatar failed to deliver an aspired get-together between Morsi and the head of the delegation of the United Arab Emirates, with whom Egypt has a serious problem over the arrest of 10 alleged Muslim Brotherhood members in the UAE who were charged with involvement in activities that allegedly undermine the national security interests of the host state where they work.

Mediation between Egypt and the UAE, according to informed Egyptian diplomats, still has a long way to go before it can deliver such a breakthrough.

This said, Egyptian diplomats who follow Arab Gulf relations with Egypt and foreign diplomats in Riyadh seem to be of the opinion that Morsi’s participation in the Arab Economic Summit this week — which was missed by Saudi King Abdullah due to illness — succeeded in helping the Egyptian president deliver a positive message to the audience of the Arab Gulf.

In a meeting with members of the Egyptian-Saudi Business Council in Riyadh on Monday, Morsi reiterated that all Arab Gulf countries — which are traditional monarchies — like to hear: Egypt is observing the national security interests of all Arab countries.

According to the reactions in the corridors of the summit by participating Arab Gulf members, it was good of Morsi to make such a statement but what really counts is for the president to honour what he says.

According to one Arab Gulf diplomat, at least four Arab Gulf states are uncomfortable with what they qualify as the disturbing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in their countries either due to the activities of Egyptians associated with the Brotherhood in these countries or due to the association and meetings between Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt and radical political Islam activists in the respective countries.

Ultimately, the Egyptian official admitted, with the single exception of Qatar that has been supportive of Morsi since his election as president, Egypt has to work independently to improve its relations with the rest of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states.

“If we are planning to solicit direct investments to help our ailing economy recover then obviously we should not be excluding the Arab Gulf states,” said a government official. He added that while Egypt could make use of the Qatari help in this respect “the fact remains that Qatar is not the most popular GCC member and that it is actually at odds with Saudi Arabia, the leading Arab Gulf state. It is on a bilateral basis that work should be done.”

President Morsi recently received several proposals both from his Muslim Brotherhood foreign policy team and from the Foreign Ministry on how to improve bilateral relations with the Arab Gulf states and is already considering his options.

“A decision has still to be made but we need to be realistic about how far things could go because the common sentiment in the Arab Gulf countries is not exactly sympathetic, to say the least, with the new regime in Egypt, given their very close relationship with the ousted regime that used to blindly follow the Saudi line of policies,” said a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s foreign policy quarter.

The task ahead of Cairo in improving its relations with the Arab Gulf is easier with some capitals than with others. Riyadh, in the assessment of Cairo, is not the most difficult because when all is said and done Saudi Arabia would not like to fully lose Egypt to Qatar, its annoying GCC political foe.

As such, Saudi Arabia, followed by Kuwait, a very close GCC ally, this week made some investment and development support pledges to Egypt. This came following the so-called competition of clergy between the Saudis and Qataris that have both, over the past two weeks, been sending their clergy to give speeches in Cairo — with the Saudi siding with the Egyptian people and the Qatari siding with the Egyptian president.

Meanwhile, the US, Egypt’s most important foreign ally under the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood as it was under ousted Hosni Mubarak, is online with the Egypt-Arab Gulf rapport management. Some Arab Gulf capitals, especially Abu Dhabi, are sharing concerns over the possibility of the ultra-Islamisation of Egypt at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood with Washington. Meanwhile, Washington has been asking some Gulf capitals, especially Riyadh, to freeze its economic aid to Egypt pending an agreement between Cairo and the International Monetary Fund over a loan that Egypt is hoping to get.

Iran is yet another player in Egypt’s relationships in the region, not just with the Persian side of the Gulf, but also with its Arab side.

The recent warmth in Cairo-Tehran relations is yet to reach the point of fully normalised relations, at least according to the view in Cairo. This said, Cairo, both officially and through the strict Muslim Brotherhood foreign policy apparatus, has been soliciting the advice and help of Tehran on several economic and security matters.

In the analysis of both the official and Muslim Brotherhood views, Iran and Egypt could work together on several regional matters including that of the crisis in Syria to formulate a political outcome to the satisfaction of both the Sunni and Shia of this region.

And according to the views of the Muslim Brotherhood foreign policy management team, a closer relationship between Egypt and Iran could somehow prompt the political and maybe the economic jealousy of the Arab side of the Gulf that is always apprehensive over Iran due to its influence over the spreading Shia population in the Arab Gulf states.

However, the scope of Egyptian-Persian rapport would be as influenced by the US exactly like that of Egypt-Arab Gulf relations. At the end of the day, Egypt remains strictly committed to the red lines drawn by Washington in relations with Tehran — today as during the days of Mubarak.

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