Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1274, (10 - 16 December 2015)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1274, (10 - 16 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The reality of Egyptian-Saudi relations

Egyptian-Saudi relations are the lynchpin of the Arab region, despite opportunistic detractors and their delusions and fabrications, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

I will never tire of repeating that Egyptian-Saudi relations (and Egyptian-Gulf relations in general) is the cornerstone in the struggle to confront the enormous challenges facing the Arab world, from those related to the Arab-Israeli conflict to those stemming from what is known as the Arab Spring.

There is considerable awareness of this cornerstone among decision-making circles in both countries, regardless of their occasional differences in opinion and perception. In all events, the strategy is one, while the tactics may vary from time to time with the full understanding in both Cairo and Riyadh that to differ is not only natural, but also logical in view of the divergence between their respective geopolitical situations. While this is nothing new, and is common knowledge among both the Egyptian and the Saudi publics, there is a camp that is not difficult to identify that is doing its utmost to spoil the relationship between the two countries, in the name of “frankness”, in the guise of “constructive criticism” or, thirdly, on the pretext that fate has chosen different roles for the two countries.

The “technique” for spoiling the relationship between the two countries has been tried again and again. Its means are familiar. Generally it begins by choosing a well-known writer or journalist in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, someone with a record for having little fondness for one of the two countries, and positing that country as the source of all Arab woes. This writer, in particular, suddenly becomes the voice that expresses the views of the people and the government in the country in which he lives. Accordingly, it is not possible that he might be expressing a personal point of view, as virtually overnight he has become the official spokesman for the Arab Republic of Egypt or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Mohamed Hassanein Heikal generally serves as the Egyptian model of journalist-cum-spokesman for all Egyptians. He is among the writers that have sustained a critical, if not hostile, position towards the kingdom over the course of five decades and especially since the onset of what he has called the “Saudi epoch”. The reasons for this are not the issue here. What concerns us is that neither this man, nor any other individual, represents the Egyptian people. In fact, ever since public opinion polls began to be conducted in Egypt in the 1960s, whenever Egyptians were asked what the best foreign country was, or even what country they would like Egypt to unify with, the answer has always been the same: Saudi Arabia. Again, the reasons for this are not the issue here, although it is probably a mixture of various factors, such as the kingdom being where Mecca and Medina are, the Saudis have always acted positively towards Egypt, even during the Nasserist era following the June 1967 defeat, and the oil wealth that opened doors to a better livelihood for millions of non-Saudis, including about two million Egyptians.

Naturally, Heikal is not the only one who directs his criticism and anger against the kingdom. There are a whole slew of journalists and media figures that are similarly inclined. But they, too, do not represent Egyptians even if a group in the kingdom thinks they do.

It is the same from the Egyptian perspective. The writings of Gamal Khashoushji and Khaled Al-Dakhil contain much criticism of Egypt. Again one finds that same obfuscation between what writers and journalists say and write, prevalent ideas in Saudi Arabia and individual members of the Saudi people.

It is also a fact that whether one speaks of Egypt or Saudi Arabia, we sometimes find few who believe that the margin of freedom is broad and that the era of state control over the press has reached its end. Yet, the reality is that such an era is, quite simply, no longer possible. Media outlets have become innumerable. Nor is it possible for a writer or journalist in Saudi Arabia to prevent Egyptians from coming to the land of the Divine revelation for worship or for work, or to prevent 600,000 Saudis from coming to Egypt as tourists, or investors or for other reasons.

The most dangerous form of a writer using his personal opinions to poison relations between our two countries is to portray the Saudi-Egyptian relationship as something other than the strong, close and indeed strategic relationship that it really is. Some have suggested, for example, that this relationship is governed by some sort of historic rivalry to control the region. Personally, I am unable to know whether such a remark is supposed to be taken seriously or whether it is intended as praise or criticism of the country that holds the sceptre of leadership. But I do know that our region is filled with failed states and countries gripped with brutal civil war, and that the region as a whole is engaged in major battles against terrorism, Iranian expansionism and gunmen who have poured in from all countries of the world.

In this context, the critical question is not who is leading, but whether Cairo and Riyadh have cooperated enough, as they did in the past, in order to save the region. Therefore, such talk about the “Saudi epoch” or Egypt’s search for a “regional role” is no longer valid or appropriate to current needs. The only aim can be to spoil the relationship between the two countries or to prevent them from undertaking the roles that they are capable of performing due to material and moral capacities and geographic location.

The poisoning of Egyptian-Saudi wells is not limited to the media’s fishing in troubled waters or the prioritisation of the idea of a leadership of a torn and collapsed Arab region. It is also a product of finger pointing over who is responsible for the current Arab condition and whether the chief cause is the conservative trend that prevails in Saudi Arabia or the Muslim Brotherhood that was born in Egypt and spread to all other parts of the Arab region and the world. Such notions are misleading oversimplifications and function to relieve Arab peoples of responsibility for what is happening in their countries. Also, they ultimately offer nothing constructive to enable us to better handle an extremely complex reality that is the product of numerous causes and that has deep historical roots that would take eons to untangle. We simply have to deal with our reality as it is given, in accordance with the needs of the present and the future.

What is surprising is that the attempts to ruin the Egyptian-Saudi relationship are taking place at a time of considerable overlap between their strategic goals, extensive cooperation in economy and high degrees of coordination at all levels. Just last week, the Supreme Saudi-Egyptian Committee met in Riyadh to follow through on the Cairo Declaration and to study ways to achieve further progress in the various dimensions of this relationship. Perhaps herein lies the crux of the matter. After the meetings that were said to reflect how close the relationship is, precious few details were announced and the tracks of progress remained unclear. Most likely there is a deeply rooted belief that the relationship between the two countries requires no explanation in view of the many manifestations of its strength. Still, in view of the attempts to spoil this relationship, it seems sensible to apply the inverse of the saying that goes, “If words are silver then silence is golden.”

In this case, for the sake of our countries and peoples, words are golden and worth their weight in diamonds and other precious stones.


The writer is chairman of the board, CEO, and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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