Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Diplomatic banana skin

OIC Secretary-General Iyad Madani’s resignation draws a line under a dispute that could have affected Egyptian-Saudi relations, writes Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

Iyad Madani, secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), resigned on Monday after making comments during a conference in Tunisia that were widely interpreted as mocking a speech President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had given to the National Youth Conference in Sharm Al-Sheikh.

The Jeddah-based OIC issued a statement two days after Madani's comments saying he had resigned for health reasons".

"The OIC General Secretariat takes this chance to express its utmost appreciation and respect to all member states," added the statement.

Madani’s resignation came after the visit of the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Thamer Al-Sabhan to Egypt. Observers believe that the visit paved the way for Madani’s resignation and was a step to release tension between the two states.

Youssef Al-Utaymeen, a former Saudi minister of social affairs, was named as Madani’s replacement.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on the same day welcoming the nomination of Al-Utaymeen and praising Saudi Arabia’s role in supporting the OIC.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri had described Madani’s comments, for which he apologised before his resignation, as "a serious encroachment against a founding member state of the organisation and its political leadership".

"Such remarks are not compatible with the responsibilities and duties of the organisation's secretary-general and fundamentally affect his ability to carry out his duties," said Shoukri.

Shoukri added that in light of Madani’s comment Egypt would reconsider its relationship with the OIC and its secretary-general.

"Madani's resignation will ease the anger felt among Egyptians as a result of his comment in Tunisia," said a diplomat who talked on condition of anonymity. He went on to stress that the incident should not be conflated with Cairo’s strained relations with Riyadh — Madani is a Saudi national — because, until his resignation, Madani represented the OIC.

Rakha Hassan, a former assistant to the foreign minister, described Madani’s comments as a major diplomatic faux pas "given that he represents an international body that should not comment, directly or indirectly, on any of its member states".

The Foreign Ministry issued a follow-up statement saying Cairo was aware of the secretary-general’s apology but reserved the right to discuss with the OIC any corrective measures.

Hassan argues against taking that matter any further in the wake of Madani’s apology and subsequent resignation.

"It is enough to submit an official memo to the organisation pointing out the secretary-general’s mistake and wait for an explanation from the OIC," he says adding that lessons should be learned from the incident. “Perhaps in the future, officials — from both states — should be careful about what they say in public,” Hassan says.

"Relations between Saudi Arabia and Egypt have seen previously hidden tensions bubble to the surface,” says the anonymous diplomat. “The OIC incident should not be allowed to compound them.”

Relations between the two states were further strained last month when 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.

Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, described Cairo’s vote in favour of the Russian resolution as  “painful”.

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

During the official visit by Saudi King Salman bin Abdel-Aziz to Cairo in April Aramco agreed 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.

Aramco has not given a reason for the 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 President Bashar Al-Assad must be removed 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 Al-Assad 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 had 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.

Hassan warns that “the Arab world is passing through a very dangerous phase and cooperation is required now more than ever".

"To allow every issue over which we disagree to undermine cooperation is not only dangerous for bilateral relations, it is a danger for the whole Arab world."

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