Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)
Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Strained ties

Egypt’s vote in favour of two different resolutions on Syria in the UN Security Council on Saturday has focused the spotlight on growing tensions between Cairo and Riyadh, reports   Doaa El-Bey 

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt voted in favour of two draft resolutions on Syria presented to the Security Council, one sponsored by France and the other by Russia. Neither was adopted. Russia vetoed the French draft while the Russian draft received four votes in favour, two abstentions and nine votes against.

“Egypt’s vote was based on the contents of the resolutions and not on the political bidding which has become a hindrance to the Security Council’s work,” Egypt Ambassador to the UN Amr Abul-Atta said in a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry on Monday.

Abul-Atta blamed “differences” among the Security Council’s permanent members for the failure to take effective decisions to ease the suffering of Syrians and uproot terrorism.

The statement came in response to questions raised by Saudi Arabia and Qatar as to why Egypt voted for a resolution presented by Russia that supports Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.

Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, described Cairo’s vote as “painful”.

“The Egyptian vote represents the Egyptian and not the Arab position,” he said.

Al-Mouallimi added that Riyadh would now present a letter to the Security Council demanding the cessation of all air assaults on Aleppo after Moscow used its veto to kill the French draft resolution demanding an end to the bombing of the city.

Al-Muallami said “Senegal and Malaysia were much closer to the agreed Arab position” than Arab League-member Egypt. Senegal and Malaysia, like Egypt, are currently non–permanent members of the Security Council.

“There is no Egyptian or Arab position in the UN,” said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity. “It is a matter of priorities. Egypt wants to ease the suffering of Syrians and put the different parties on the road towards a settlement while Saudi is against any settlement that involves the present regime.” Maasoum Mazouk, a former assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister, says “I would have preferred Egypt to abstain from voting in both cases.” 

However, he added, Cairo could only have done so after taking into account a host of complicated considerations. “And no one expected the Saudi reaction.”

“The Saudi representative should have conveyed his remarks directly to his Egyptian counterpart or Riyadh could have passed its comments to Cairo in a way that respects the friendly relations that bind the two states.”

Meanwhile, Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned petroleum giant, has told the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) that it will be unable to supply Egypt with shipments of petroleum products this month.

“Aramco has verbally informed the EGPC of its inability to supply Egypt with shipments of petroleum product, though only for this month,” an Egyptian official was quoted as saying by news agencies.

During the official visit by Saudi King Salman bin Abdel-Aziz to Cairo in April, Aramco signed a contract with EGPC to supply 700,000 tonnes of petroleum products every month for five-years. The deal includes 400,000 tonnes of diesel, 200,000 tonnes of benzene and 100,000 tonnes of Mazotper month, paid for by EGPC over a 15-year period and at 2 per cent interest.

Egypt has received three million tonnes of petroleum products since the deal began in May.

The diplomat sees no link between the Saudi decision to suspend oil shipments and Egypt’s Security Council vote, though he acknowledges “differences between the two states can have more negative repercussion on relations in coming months.

Marzouk disagrees, arguing “the suspension is a show of power on the part of Riyadh”.

Aramco has not given a reason for the temporary suspension of supplies.

The latest Egyptian-Saudi spat reflects wider difference on how to deal with regional issues.

Differences over Syria are rooted in Riyadh's conviction that Syrian Al-Assad must be removed from the country before any settlement can take place while Cairo does not oppose a settlement with the present regime provided it paves the way for the phased departure of the regime and denies Islamic militants any role in Syria's future. Riyadh is also opposed to Russian military intervention in Syria in support of Al-Assad.

Riyadh also expected Cairo, which has repeatedly talked about its commitment to Gulf security, to participate with ground troops as part of a Saudi-led military coalition that intervened last year in Yemen's civil war. Egypt's commitment has so far been limited to naval deployment to protect Red Sea shipping lanes.

Riyadh is also unhappy with the channels of communication with Tehran that Cairo maintains in the absence of diplomatic relations.

Popular opposition in Egypt to a decision to relinquish control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia has also strained relations.

“There is a crisis in relations on various levels that has long been suppressed,” said the diplomat. “I do not believe either side wants to escalate any further. Cairo and Riyadh need each other and they both know it”.

Marzouk believes the relationship between the two states can go either way: “Should Saudi Arabia continue with its strategic mistakes and keep overlooking conventional diplomatic procedures it may lead to an escalation of tension. Equally, Riyadh, realising Egypt and Saudi Arabia need one another, may act to ease pressures.”

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