Egypt between the hammer and the anvil
In recent weeks, Egypt has become a particularly frequent “guest” in the Russian media. Associated with this Middle Eastern country news often given the character of sensation. That publication, citing "authoritative sources", announced the return of Russia to the military base in Sidi Barrani, already used by the Soviet Naval Fleet until 1972. Then, again, as a fait accompli, it was reported that Cairo for a symbolic price of one dollar would give Moscow the notorious Mistrals, which Egypt had bought after breaking the Russian-French contract. At the same time, a general refrain was the approval of the establishment of allied relations between the two countries.
Most of the high-profile news was eventually refuted by the Egyptian authorities themselves. Commenting on the base, President Abdul-Fattah Al-Sisi recalled that the country's foreign policy concept prohibits the deployment of foreign military facilities. “There are not and will not be any military bases of Russia or other states in Egypt,” he said in an interview with the largest local newspaper, Al-Ahram. No less annoying disappointment turned into a "deal" with the "Mistral". According to the same Al-Sisi, helicopter carriers will be used by Egypt to protect remote offshore gas fields. In addition, according to some data, Saudi Arabia allocated money for the purchase of ships, which, of course, would hardly have agreed with the transfer of them to Russia.
However, it is wrong to explain everything with the lack of professionalism of the journalists who are sensational to the sensation. The primary sources of information in almost all cases were the Egyptian publications. This massive throw-in was clearly sanctioned from above and falls into the outline of Cairo’s general political course with its floundering from side to side.
At the heart of this inconsistency are Egypt’s relations with Saudi Arabia. The Arab Spring, which directly affected the country, led to the removal of President Hosni Mubarak from power. In the first presidential election after the revolution, the victory was won by the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Mursi. But the Islamists' shocked world triumph did not last long. The defense minister, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian army, Al-Sisi, who was appointed president by the president, overthrew his patron in July 2013 and declared a real war to the Muslim Brotherhood. The latter were declared a terrorist organization, their leaders, including the ex-president, were sentenced to lengthy imprisonment. And in 2014, as a result of the virtually uncontested elections, Al-Sisi became the head of the country.
These events, in addition to the intra-Egyptian, had an international dimension. The coming to power of the Islamists was supported by Turkey, the United States, and most importantly, Qatar, where the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, lives. The overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, we recall, also took place with the active participation of Qatar. Thus, the 2-millionth emirate with an area of three times smaller than the Moscow region made a request to become an influential geopolitical player.
The Saudi authorities took this as a challenge to their own hegemony in the Arab world. Began a sharp, though largely hidden opposition. As a result, 25 June 2013, the emir of Qatar, abdicated the throne, and a week later the power of the Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown in Egypt.
Union of unequal
Riyadh was not only one of the first to support the new authorities, but also became their main financial donor. The visit of King Salman Al Saud to Egypt in the spring of this year consolidated the economic dependence of Cairo. Thus, over the next five years, the monarchy will monthly supply the Arab Republic of 700 with thousands of tons of petroleum products at the expense of the loan under 2 percent per annum. The total value of the contract is 23 billion dollars. Another 16 billion will be invested in a joint investment fund. Nearby projects include the construction of 13 industrial complexes, two power plants and a new port in Ismailia in Egypt.
Impressive help is not free. From Cairo require full support of the policy of Riyadh. As early as last year, the parties adopted a joint statement, in which the states were called “the two wings of Arab security.” In fact, the Egyptian "wing" performs subordinate functions. For example, Cairo was forced to join a coalition fighting in Yemen. Cherishing the dream of creating a pan-Arab army under its hegemony, the Saudi authorities place special hopes on the Egyptian armed forces - one of the strongest in the region.
The apotheosis of this dependence was the transfer of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia. Deserted land areas are of strategic importance, blocking the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba. It is planned to build an 15-kilometer bridge across the islands, which will directly connect the two states that do not have a land border. In Egypt, the decision of the authorities caused mass protests. Residents are not only dissatisfied with the loss of the territory, which they consider to be a native country, but also point to the experience of Bahrain. The unrest that broke out there in 2011 year was suppressed by Saudi troops infiltrating the island over King Fahd Bridge.
But the Egyptian-Saudi alliance was originally riddled with contradictions. Now they are increasingly protruding to the surface. Special concern in Cairo is Riyadh’s support for Islamist groups in Syria and Yemen, as well as rapprochement with Qatar. Egyptian authorities accuse the emirate of continued support for the Muslim Brotherhood and militants in the Sinai Peninsula. However, the Saudi leadership ignores the alarm ally. In the kingdom dozens of "brothers" are amnestied. In addition, contacts with the leadership of the organization, including the odious sheikh al-Qaradawi, are not particularly concealed.
In Cairo, they are not eager to be a tool for the expansionist course of Riyadh and bear the associated costs. Egypt's participation in the aggression against Yemen has steadily declined, and in mid-October, the Egyptian media reported on the possible withdrawal of the country from the coalition. Moreover, Cairo maintains semi-official contacts with Yemeni rebels. Last year, representatives of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, allied to the Hussites, were received here. The delegation of the latter is also going to visit Egypt soon. In Saudi Arabia, Cairo is even suspected of involvement in the delivery of scud missiles to the Huthits.
Extreme irritation of the monarchy is caused by normal relations between Egypt and Iran, as well as the position on Syria. Cairo advocates a dialogue with the Assad government, for the country's territorial integrity and the disarmament of extremist groups. Egypt made a lot of noise in support of the Russian resolution on Syria, introduced by October 8 for consideration by the UN Security Council. Recall that Moscow offered to withdraw militants "Dzhebhat an-Nusra" from Aleppo.
The reaction of Saudi Arabia was not long in coming. Permanent representative of the kingdom at the UN Abdullah al-Muallimi said that non-Arab countries, like Senegal and Malaysia, were closer to the "Arab consensus" than Egypt, and called the actions of Cairo "regrettable."
From Riyadh to Moscow and back
What do you mean regret, Saudi, realized in Cairo two days later, when Riyadh announced the temporary suspension of oil deliveries. An anti-Egyptian campaign unfolded in the Saudi press. “The Egyptian government is failing, people consider it a“ black hole ”, and we don’t profit from our investments,” wrote journalist Jamal Hashoggi, known for having fought against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in 1980s.
But the most dangerous challenge for Cairo is activating extremists in the Sinai Peninsula. Problems with the local Bedouin population and Palestinian refugees at the Egyptian authorities began several decades ago, but the outbreak of violence occurred after the coup 2013 year. The largest of the Islamist groups - "Vilayat Sinai" (pictured) - swore allegiance to the "Islamic State" and declared war on the government. The victims of the conflict were hundreds of people.
Thanks to the actions of the army and the police, militant activity has declined this year. However, in mid-October, the Islamists again launched an offensive. October 14 was attacked by one of the checkpoint in the north of Sinai, 12 soldiers killed. As a result, the authorities were forced to extend the state of emergency for another three months and announced the start of a new antiterrorist operation.
The destabilization coincided with the deterioration of Egyptian-Saudi relations. In this regard, attention is drawn to the rapprochement of Riyadh with the Palestinian movement Hamas. For several years, the kingdom defiantly ignored this organization, accusing it of having links with Iran and Qatar. Now, the Saudi authorities are trying to establish their control over Hamas, which, in particular, is evidenced by the recent visit to the country of one of the leaders of the movement, Ismail Hanii. Meanwhile, according to Cairo, some Hamas factions support the Sinai militants.
In Egypt, the reaction to the steps of Saudi Arabia was ambivalent. On the one hand, President Al-Sisi called the actions of Riyadh an attempt to put pressure on the country. "Egypt will not kneel before anyone except Allah," he stressed. In addition, Cairo went on a demonstrative rapprochement with Russia. 15 — 26 October in the west of the country passed anti-terrorism exercises “Defenders of Friendship-2016” with the participation of Russian paratroopers. At the same time, the Egyptian authorities turned to Moscow with a request to supply helicopters for the Mistral. And in mid-October, Cairo’s readiness to conclude a contract with Rosatom for the construction of a nuclear power plant in Ed Dhaba became known by the end of the year.
However, Cairo’s attempts to distance itself from Saudi Arabia are not consistent. Dependence on the economic assistance of the kingdom is very high and forces the leadership of the Arab Republic to maneuver. Supporting the Russian resolution on Syria, the Egyptian permanent representative did the same with the French-Spanish resolution, which called for the introduction of a no-fly zone over Aleppo. The UN Security Council did not observe such a frank desire to sit on two chairs for a long time.
From the same point of view, it is necessary to consider the appearance of information about the lease of a military base by Russia, and then its denial. Without the ability to break off relations with Riyadh, Egypt, at the same time trying to achieve more favorable conditions for itself in an unequal alliance.
As for the rapprochement with Russia, it is situational and controversial. Moscow does not yet have sufficient economic and political weight to replace links with Riyadh for Egypt. Do not forget about the rather acute trade war that broke out between the countries in September. Recall that Cairo then tightened requirements for the export of Russian grain, and Moscow, in response banned the import of vegetables from Egypt. The seemingly coordinated resumption of air communication between the countries, interrupted after the crash of the Russian plane over Sinai, also broke down. At the last moment, Russia announced that the Egyptian side had not responded to a number of observations related to flight safety.
Egyptian authorities are currently between the hammer and the anvil. Domestically, there is growing discontent with the dictatorship of Riyadh and the overly soft position of power, which, even at the height of the crisis, did not refuse to transfer the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia. Public opinion forces the Egyptian authorities to limit the influence of the kingdom. This, however, is fraught with harsh opposition. Judging by the already made steps in Riyadh will stop at nothing to retain control over the key country in the Middle East. Therefore, stability in Egypt is under serious threat.
- Sergey Kozhemyakin
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