Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

For the sake of regional stability

The latest meeting between President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and the Saudi monarch shows Cairo and Riyadh are determined to overcome the difficulties that have beset their relations, writes Doaa El-Bey

photo: Sherif Abdel-Moneim
photo: Sherif Abdel-Moneim

During President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Saudi King Salman’s meeting this week in Riyadh the two heads of state stressed the need to preserve the security and stability of the Arab region and combat attempts to drive a wedge between Arab allies.

Al-Sisi’s visit came in response to an invitation issued by King Salman last month when the two leaders met on the sidelines of the Arab League Summit held in Jordan. The visit aimed to boost relations after a period of growing tensions between Cairo and Riyadh.

“In the case of Egyptian-Saudi relations the factors that bind the two states together will always outweigh the differences. The differences have to be managed in a manner that does not impact on overall ties,” said a diplomat who requested anonymity.

The two Arab leaders discussed pressing regional issues — the situations in Syria, Libya and Yemen — and agreed to enhance cooperation in the face of the challenges these crises pose.

Al-Sisi and Salman also agreed greater coordination was needed to tackle the scourge of terrorism.

“The summit underlined the fact that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the buttresses of regional stability and together constitute a bulwark against the challenges currently besetting the Middle East,” said Al-Sayed Amin Shalabi, secretary-general of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

The Egyptian and Saudi foreign ministers held a meeting on the periphery of the summit.

“The meeting was a reflection of the political will to build on ties,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid.

During the meeting, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri stressed that strong coordination between the two countries was necessary for the sake of Arab national security.

“I had the chance to hold a long round of talks with the Saudi foreign minister and we agreed to hold regular meetings in the future to formulate stances that will serve both countries’ interests,” he said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said his meeting with Shoukri was constructive. He pointed to the historical and strategic relationship that binds the two countries together and predicted that ties between Cairo and Riyadh will grow even stronger.

Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya were at the top of the foreign ministers’ agenda.

Relations between Egypt and Saudi have passed through several ups and downs since the 25 January Revolution.

Although Riyadh had reservations about the Arab Spring in general, and the Egyptian revolution in particular, following the removal of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi Riyadh pumped billions of dollars in aid and investments into Egypt.

But despite the financial and political support offered by Saudi Arabia differences between Cairo and Riyadh over how best to handle the situations in Syria, Iran and Yemen led to mounting tensions.

On Syria, Riyadh insists that Bashar Al-Assad must be removed for the crisis to end whereas Cairo supports a political settlement that will protect the unity of the country and involve all parties. Saudi Arabia also sees Tehran as the major threat to regional security and was unhappy about the channels of communication that Cairo has opened with Iran in the absence of diplomatic relations. 

Egyptian-Saudi differences over the handling of the crisis in Yemen further fuelled the tension between the two capitals. In Yemen Egypt was opposed to intervention on the ground whereas Saudi Arabia wanted Egypt to participate with ground troops as part of the Saudi-led military coalition that first intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015. Egypt’s commitment has so far been limited to naval deployment to protect Red Sea shipping lanes.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Egypt hit their nadir after a maritime border demarcation agreement between the two which handed control of the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Riyadh provoked protests and lawsuits in Egypt. The low was compounded when Egypt voted in favour of a Russian-backed — but Saudi-opposed — UN resolution on Syria.

The Russian draft resolution urged all Syrian parties to halt offensive operations and called for humanitarian aid to be allowed in besieged areas.

Saudi Arabia, which opposes any action that might provide support for the Damascus regime, branded Egypt’s vote in favour of the resolution as a deviation from the Arab position.

Criticism by Saudi officials, including the Saudi Envoy to the United Nations Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, led to Amr Abul-Atta, Egypt’s ambassador to the UN, defending Egypt’s position. “The vote was based on the contents of the resolution and not according to political bidding which has become a hindrance to the work of the Security Council,” he said.

In the same month as the UN vote Aramco suspended its monthly shipments of oil to Egypt, forcing Cairo to scrabble to find alternative supplies. Though Riyadh denied the suspension was linked to Egypt’s vote for the UN resolution on Syria many commentators thought otherwise.

When, in January, an Egyptian court rejected the agreement transferring the two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, relations deteriorated further.

In March there were signs tensions were beginning to be contained when Aramco resumed oil shipments to Egypt.

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