After the overthrow of the military under the leadership of the general, and now the president al-Sisi prokatarskogo government "Muslim Brotherhood," Egypt and Saudi Arabia began to rapidly improve.
The state of the economy of Egypt depends on Saudi Arabia. The security of the kingdom after the “nuclear deal” of the USA with Iran comes from relations with Cairo. At the same time, Egyptian-Saudi ties develop nonlinearly. They are affected by the change in tactics of the Saudi court (coming to power, King Salman adjusted the course of his predecessors), pragmatic interests of both parties and their relationship with the outside world, including Arab, in respect of which Riyadh and Cairo behave differently. Consider the current state and prospects of relations of Egypt with KSA, based on materials prepared by the expert of IBI A. A. Zheleznov and TASS.
April 7 began a five-day state visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz to Egypt. This is the first visit of the current monarch to a country with which the KSA maintains a special relationship. At one time, King Abdullah was one of the first among the Arab leaders to congratulate A. F. Al-Sisi on his election as President of Egypt, and also visited Cairo on an official visit in June 2014 of the year. Both countries are pursuing a common counter-terrorism strategy. Riyadh took over, in addition to political support, financial assistance to stabilize the regime of A.F. Al-Sisi and to restore the Egyptian economy. These are soft loans, investments, energy supplies. In March 2014, Saudi Arabia listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. A series of operations of the special services to detain activists of BM were conducted in the country and tough measures were taken against the ulama that supported them.
After assuming the throne of King Salman, it seemed that the matter would continue. President al-Sisi in August 2015 visited CSA to sign the “Cairo Declaration”, according to which both countries made commitments to expand cooperation in the field of investment, transport and energy. It was stated that ARE and KSA, as “the two wings of Arab national security”, are ready to act together to maintain regional stability. However, contrary to the expectations of Saudi Arabia, who believed that Egypt in exchange for financial assistance would lead the foreign policy line with an eye on Riyadh, the situation began to develop differently. In Cairo, it was considered that national interests do not always coincide with Saudi "recommendations." If at the official level, the parties avoided demonstrating discontent, then the Saudi and Egyptian media over the past year have highlighted the problem of tensions between Egypt and Asia.
First of all, this concerned the differences in approaches to the main regional problems: the fight against terrorism, the settlement in Syria and Yemen, relations with Iran. Unlike Riyadh, which considers Tehran to be the main regional adversary, Cairo, despite difficult relations with the latter, declared a more flexible, pragmatic position, until stable and positive ties were established with it. It is unacceptable for Egypt that Saudi Arabia is trying to translate rivalry with Iran into the plane of religious confrontation, when all Sunni states should rally under the leadership of KSA in the struggle for Arab identity as opposed to Persians. In addition, Cairo is very concerned about the change in the course of Riyadh towards the Muslim Brotherhood. If King Abdullah sought to create a “Sunni front” against Iran, consisting of “moderate” countries in the Saudi sense, then Salman and his entourage decided to substantially expand this bloc. According to the plans, the Muslim Brotherhood and other related groups (their Syrian branch, Yemen’s Al-Islah, Hamas, etc.) should be included in it. It was difficult to imagine under King Abdullah (a diplomatic conflict with Qatar, right up to the ambassador’s recall, arose because of the protection of the Muslim Brotherhood). But in Riyadh, an amnesty was given to a number of activists of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were convicted for activities in the territory of the kingdom and were in Saudi prisons. In the press, there were information about contacts of Riyadh with the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Shuruk, Saudi officials had a meeting in the summer of 2015 with billionaire Yusuf Nada, the main financier of this organization, in his Swiss residence.
Riyadh made several diplomatic gestures that demonstrated that the kingdom’s position on the Muslim Brotherhood is changing. For example, last July, Hamas leader Khaled Mashal visited KSA, where he met with King Salman, which marked a new phase of relations. The surprise for Egypt was the presence of the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf al-Kardawi, who lives in Qatar, as an official guest at a reception on the national day at the KSA embassy in Doha in October 2015. Members of the organization, confirming the non-randomness of what happened, said they are optimistic. Egyptian media have not viewed this as a personal initiative of the Saudi ambassador to Qatar, Abdullah al-Ayfan, but as a sign of official Riyadh for reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. There were statements that such meetings pose a threat to the national security of the Arab states, and especially to Egypt.
Brothers are not for everyone
The change in the KSA policy on the Muslim Brotherhood is evident from materials in the Saudi press, where articles began to appear that criticized Egypt for persecuting this organization, accusing al-Sisi of totalitarianism and a recurrence of "Nasserism." Political analyst Jamal Hashoggi acknowledged that there has been a shift in Riyadh’s external priorities, he is now more concerned about the growing threats from the “Islamic State” (banned in Russia) and Iran, and therefore does not see the Muslim Brotherhood as a direct challenge to national security . The Saudis intend to pursue this from the allies. They tried to act as intermediaries between Cairo and the Muslim Brotherhood, but did not succeed. For the latter, al-Sisi is an enemy, judging by the statement of the Secretary General of the BM Mahmoud Hussein of March 5 in the newspaper Al-Misriyun, where he rejected the possibility of contacts while the overthrown President M. Mursi is in custody. He stressed that the Muslim Brotherhood is not going to compromise with the "bloody regime, to abandon the revolutionary path, as well as the rights of martyrs."
The actions of the KSA caused Egypt to change its position on Yemen. After supporting military operations at the very beginning and sending the units of their naval and air forces to participate in the international coalition in Operation Storm of Resolvement in March 2015, Egypt then began to limit activity in this conflict, refusing to participate in the ground operation, despite pressure from KSA. One of the reasons was that, according to the new strategy, the Saudis began to improve relations with the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Al-Islah party. They insisted that this group be represented a weighty role in the political process. Cairo saw the purpose of its participation in this operation differently. According to the former ambassador and member of the Egyptian International Affairs Council, Rahi Hassan, his country participates in the war against the Housits, mainly to ensure a regional waterway to the Red Sea, which leads to the Suez Canal, as Egyptian diplomacy seeks strategic balance rather than regional unions or whims of others.
The Egyptians had previously made it clear to the Saudis that they did not agree with their actions in Yemen. In April, Egypt’s 2015-th intelligence services patronized the holding of a protest rally under anti-Saud slogans in front of the KSA embassy in Cairo against hostilities in Yemen. And in July, the Egyptians defiantly received a delegation representing the former President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The national media criticized the actions of the Saudi armed forces in Yemen, saying that Egypt has nothing to do with the destruction of schools, hospitals, civil airports and cultural facilities. These articles were extremely nervously received in Saudi Arabia, especially since they called for President A.F. Al-Sisi to refuse to receive financial assistance from the Arabian monarchies and stop being a prisoner of Riyadh.
Another relationship problem is Egypt’s position on Syria. Cairo advocated a dialogue with the Assad regime and supported the anti-terrorist operation of the Russian AUC. Egypt calls for the preservation of the territorial integrity of Syria and opposes plans for its federalization, believing that this will turn the country into a new Iraq. This position was confirmed by al-Sisi in an interview with the French magazine “Zhen Afrik” from February 22 and a week before that - to representatives of the Kuwaiti press. Foreign Minister ARE S. al-Shukri gave 16 February a negative assessment of the Saudi proposal to send troops for a ground operation in Syria. The minister believes that the decision on such an operation is not within the scope of the Islamic anti-terrorist alliance, which was created by the Saudis in December 2015, and where Egypt joined the 34 countries. According to S. Ash-Shukri in an interview with Al-Yahm Al-Sabiah on March 10, GCC does not have the right to recognize the Hezbollah grouping as a terrorist organization, since this question only concerns the people of Lebanon.
Doomed to be friends
Nonetheless, ARE understands that internal stability in a country largely depends on cash infusions from the GCC member states, above all KSA, and are forced to reckon with this. As noted in an interview for “Women Afrik” al-Sisi, it is difficult to live depending on the help of others. But he agreed that without financial support, Egypt would not be easy, since ARE requires a growth rate of 7,5 percent to achieve balanced development. According to IMF estimates, the country received about 10 billion dollars only from Saudi Arabia. Therefore, in an interview with Kuwaiti media, A.F. Al-Sisi made it clear: he is not going to reconsider relations with the GCC countries, especially in military cooperation. He officially declared that Egypt was ready to immediately defend its brothers in the Gulf if they were directly threatened. The only question is to what extent these words reflect reality, and to what extent are tributes to the usual rhetoric in the Middle East.
Many observers wonder about the future strategy of Saudi Arabia in relation to Egypt. In Riyadh (especially under the new leadership), they reacted very sensitively when the political position of the partners on any issue began to differ from their own vision of the KSA leadership. Observers associate the aggressive external course of Riyadh with the “heir to the heir” figure - the son of the ruling country of the king, Mohammed bin Salman. He is believed to be responsible for the continuation of hostilities in Yemen (with the direct participation of the KSA Armed Forces) and Syria (with the support of the allied kingdoms of Islamist groups). Nevertheless, the president of Egypt maintains all official contacts with Riyadh. In particular, al-Sisi was present at the final stage of the Northern Thunder military exercises in KSA, where on March 12 met King Salman in the presence of the princes Mohammed bin Naef and Mohammed bin Salman. Given these events in Riyadh and Cairo, special hopes were pinned on the upcoming visit.
According to Saudi political analyst Anwar Ishka, director of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies in Jeddah, in the Yemeni conflict, Egypt’s policy should be coordinated with KSA. Cairo should change its attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood, because their coming to power in Syria or Yemen cannot harm APE. Among the topics that should be raised at the talks, Saudi observers point to an attempt by KSA to initiate a rapprochement between Turkey and Egypt in order to increase the effectiveness of the Sunni bloc being created. This question for KSA diplomacy is one of the most difficult, because Turkish President R. T. Erdogan did not change the negative attitude towards the military coup of A.F. al-Sisi and the repressive policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood. In November 2013, Cairo announced the Turkish ambassador, Hussein Botsali, persona non grata and lowered the level of diplomatic relations. Ankara did the same.
The leaders of Egypt and KSA 9 April signed an agreement to establish a free trade zone in the Sinai Peninsula. According to the Sinai development project, for which the kingdom allocates a billion dollars to 1,5, it is planned to build there 13 industrial complexes and to open King Salman University in Al-Tour (the administrative center of South Sinai province). The agreement was concluded along with the framework conventions on housing construction, laying of water utilities and the construction of two power plants. A memorandum of understanding was signed between the Saudi national oil company Aramco and its Egyptian partners and a document establishing the two enterprises in the field of export and training of personnel. ARE and KSA create a joint investment fund with an authorized capital of 60 billion Saudi riyals (16 billion dollars).
The power plant construction project is estimated at 2,2 billion dollars. One of them will be built to the west of Cairo. The agreement on the construction of the port in Ismailia involves investments in excess of two billion dollars. Earlier, Egypt and KSA signed 17 documents on cooperation in various fields. For the implementation of these projects, Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed on the delimitation of the maritime border between the states, with the result that the disputed islands of Tiran and Sanafir in the Red Sea, which were controlled by Cairo, moved to Riyadh. The document must be ratified by the Parliament of Egypt.
The question of the ownership of the islands has remained open for decades. For the first time, the delimitation of the maritime border between the two states was made in 2010. Riyadh, in accordance with UN conventions, announced the delimitation of the baselines of its maritime borders, which Egypt officially recognized. Then the parties began to discuss the issue of the delimitation of sea waters. Over the past six years, more than 10 rounds took place, and in December, 2015 reached an agreement in principle. As stated in the ARE Cabinet of Ministers, members of the technical commission determined that the islands are within Saudi territorial waters and fall under the jurisdiction of KSA. However, some experts and opposition movements questioned the legality of the transfer of the islands, saying that the rejection of property and resources belonging to the Egyptian people is contrary to the constitution.
Determination of the official status of the islands coincided with the signing of an important agreement on the construction of the world's largest bridge over the Red Sea, which in the 50-kilometer section in the form of a triangle will link Sharm el-Sheikh, Tiran Island and Ras Hamid (northern Saudi Arabia). The conclusion of this document has become an important part of the Sinai development plan, for which the kingdom allocates a billion dollars to 1,7. The construction of the bridge, whose piers will exceed 80 meters (for ease of navigation), will allow arriving from Egypt to the kingdom in 20 minutes. The idea of the bridge is discussed with 1988 of the year. Meanwhile, according to biologists, the construction work and drilling will lead to the inhibition of coral reefs, which are very sensitive to the purity of the water - this will disturb the ecosystem of the Red Sea.
At the time of this writing, King Salman’s visit to Egypt continues. What kind of agreement will be signed in the remaining days is unrealistic to predict. But despite the disagreements and direct contradictions, Cairo’s unwillingness to put its military power under any direct command of Riyadh in any format and claim to domination in the region according to the principle of “who pays is ordering music”, relations at the bilateral level will develop. For a long time, ARE and KSA found interdependence, which cannot be broken at the initiative of either side without catastrophic consequences not only for its partner, but also for itself.
We can predict that disagreements over Yemen, Syria, Turkey and Iran, not to mention the Muslim Brotherhood, will not be able to destroy or even weaken the Egyptian-Saudi alliance in the near future, while Cairo and Riyadh will achieve your own goals.
A special theme is the attitude of the leadership of the United States to this alliance. It was KSA, whose leadership considered and continues to consider itself loyal to the Iranian issue of the American administration, helped Egypt to survive the most difficult period after the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government, when the White House openly pressed on Cairo. Egyptian policy of President B. Obama failed to a large extent thanks to the Saudis who put on the military ARE. This circumstance further strengthens the current relationship between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.