Saudi Arabia - one of the key players in the Middle East, is in difficult relations with Russia. Support for radical Islamists, including in Russia, is turning her into a dangerous opponent of Moscow. The role that Riyadh played in the fall of regimes in the secular states of the Arab world during the “Arab Spring” aggravates their contradictions. Dumping the oil market, which ultimately proved dangerous for Saudi Arabia itself, complicated the economic situation in Russia.
But where there is a benefit from the dialogue with Moscow or the regimes so far from the Saudi model of world order, like the military authorities of Cairo, the kingdom is ready to engage in dialogue and even tactical alliances. Let us consider the current situation with the terrorist threats of Saudi Arabia and its relations with the most powerful of the temporary allies - Egypt on the basis of the works of A. A. Zheleznov and Yu. B. Shcheglovina prepared for the IBV.
American experts described the assassination of the Saudi armed forces 5 by April as confirming the growing tendency to increase the combat activity of the Islamic State structures in KSA. The attack on Colonel Kitab Majid al-Hammadi’s car occurred in Dowadmi, 200 kilometers from Riyadh. Responsibility was assumed by the organization “Vilayet Nejd”, which positions itself as the Saudi branch of the IG banned in Russia. The terrorists claim that they have liquidated the head of the internal security department of the Al-Kuvayyah district.
The attack on the representatives of the security services and the police is the calling card of the “Vilaeta Nejd”. On April 3, two IEDs near the Al-Kharj police station in the suburb of Riyadh were blown up, killing a policeman and injuring three. In May, the 2015 th militants of the group attacked Shiite mosques in Al-Qudaykh district of Qatif, the result: 21 people died, 100 injured. A week later, a suicide bomber launched an IED in a Shiite mosque in Damama. June 26 terrorist blew himself up in a Shiite mosque in the capital of Kuwait. The organizer and the liaison were arrested by local police. Later, four more were detained. All of them, with the exception of one Iraqi, turned out to be Saudi subjects.
Exchange of terrorist attacks
The Saudi authorities have not yet provided evidence that the attacks were organized by supporters of the IG. For the Saudis, commitment to this structure is an exception. Immigrants from KSA actively participated in Al-Qaeda, and then in Dzhebhat an-Nusra (both of which are prohibited organizations in Russia). They answered the radical ideology of the Saudi persuasion. Both were created with the support of Riyadh to spread their influence. Finance for recruiting recruits came from KSA. IG - Iraqi nationalist organization. The presence of foreigners in its ranks is associated with the desire to attract the maximum number of supporters. Iraqi and Saudi interests have always come into conflict due to both the unresolved issue of succession to KSA (Iraqi King Faisal of the Hashimite dynasty was expelled from Hejaz) and ambitions for leadership in the Arab world.
The accession of some radical Saudi Sunni youth group to the IS is possible, but this is not the main trend. Expect a mass outrage in the local Sunni environment is possible in the presence of a number of factors. The first is a sharp drop in the standard of living, which is not yet in Saudi Arabia. The second is the support of protests from influential members of the royal family who fell into disgrace. These are primarily the sons of the late King Abdullah and the clan of Prince Bandar. But their representatives, relegated to the shadows, are again being promoted to independent roles. Prince Bandar begins to engage in mediation with the West to explain the position of Riyadh on fundamental issues of foreign policy. Prince Mutaib remained at the head of the National Guard, the issue of the dissolution of which is no longer necessary, and joined the solution of the "Yemeni dossier" issues.
The latter is another nuance. In a confrontation with the forces of the Arabian coalition led by the KSA, the former president of Yemen, A. A. Saleh, created from the officers of the loyal Republican Guard a group of demolition men to "organize delicate operations." For the period of activity of the Housits in the Yemeni regions bordering on Saudi Arabia, the topic of stirring up Shiite discontent in the Eastern Province of KSA was one of the priorities of this group. Experts rightly linked the explosions in Shiite mosques in KSA with the actions of Saleh’s supporters in order to provoke mass Shiite unrest. Now this topic is not so relevant. Although, we should note, the Saudi special services did not disdain such methods, organizing through Islamist agents explosions in mosques in Sanaa.
As for the attacks in KSA, the characteristics and power of the used IEDs allowed the experts to conclude that the organizers do not have sufficient resources to produce them with a claim to resonance. This confirms that “Vilayet Nejd” is a small and not quite professional group. In this case, the effect of state anti-Shiite propaganda. Radicalized youth began to act. Arrests and executions generate an increase in followers with the repetition of their "exploits". Plus, it is necessary to take into account the returning home from Syria of Saudi militants, who, regardless of which side they fought on, carry a charge of radicalism and influence the local youth. KSA is beginning to reap the benefits of a policy of using the Islamist factor for state purposes. While the scale is controlled. Over time, under the influence of economic reasons, they may increase.
Disputes and clips
Curious trends in the relations of Cairo and Riyadh. KSA considers Egypt as a strategic security partner. The sides were able to circumvent sharp corners in relations, which are primarily associated with different approaches to the Syrian problem. Egyptian military abhorred Saudi tactics to use the Islamist factor in attempts to overthrow the Assad regime. Egyptian security officials do not see much difference between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood in terms of the direct threat to the existing secular regime in the country. But the Egyptian secret services close their eyes to an agreement with the KSA on the organization of an Islamic university in the south of Sinai due to economic expediency. It is important for the Egyptian authorities to keep the situation under control and get a breather for the gradual reduction of social benefits and subsidies, as well as the devaluation of the Egyptian pound.
Graduality is important for the selection of conditions for obtaining external borrowing. Return under the jurisdiction of CSA disputed islands in the Red Sea has given rise in Egypt grumble, but Cairo is forced to take such steps. He hopes to avoid using his Armed Forces as a regional gendarme, and so far this is working out. However, the main contradiction in the alliance of KSA and Egypt lies in the sphere of approaches to the system of building the state and the attitude towards the Salafis. This is a time bomb that will prevent the Egyptian-Saudi strategic alliance from becoming a long-term one. Sooner or later, attempts to spread Saudi influence will conflict with the ideology of the Egyptian military regime, which will not share power with the theologians.
The current rapprochement between the two countries, in addition to the vision of their role in the region by the KSA and the economic crisis in Egypt, is also due to a number of tactical tasks. The first and foremost for both countries is the pacification of Libya with the elimination of hotbeds of terrorist activity in Sinai, which are supported through the Gaza Strip and the ports of Libya mainly by Qatar and Turkey. The way out of the crisis according to the Egyptian-Saudi scheme will mean a sharp decline in Qatari influence in the Maghreb. Doha dislike is a powerful holding factor for Cairo and Riyadh. Hence the KSA intelligence activities in an attempt to arrange the relocation of the national unity F. Saraj government to Tripoli from Tunisia, as well as the support of Cairo and Abu Dhabi for the Libyan general H. Haftar, who is trying to finish off the Islamists in Benghazi. Actions in one direction or another are determined by whether a particular Libyan government agency is loyal or a field commander to Qatar or not.
Hamas in touch
Terrorism in Sinai remains a painful topic for ARE and KSA. In addition to strikes against the budget in the form of a fall in revenues from the tourism business, for Cairo it is also a situation of constant conflict that does not allow Egypt to act as a major regional player, including directing the Armed Forces to peacekeeping and stabilizing missions. This is a serious concern for Riyadh. Against the background of the obvious failures of the military campaign in Sinai, the Egyptian security forces decided to try to negotiate with Hamas. In Cairo, they proceed from a simple truth: there is no rear base - there are no terrorists. Although the problem of Bedouin separatism, the “nutritional broth” from which the insurgent movement grows, cannot be solved by a treaty with Hamas. This requires the lifting of the blockade of the Gaza Strip and the liberalization of the terms of trade for the local population.
The main architect of the agreements with the leadership of Hamas is the current head of security, Khaled Fawzi, who was able to break the resistance of the “hawks” in the power bloc and convince President al-Sisi of the correctness of his approach. In this he is supported by the Israeli special services. Countries coordinate their actions to build a dialogue with Hamas. In March, two meetings of the leadership of Egypt’s intelligence service with the organization’s emissaries were held. The conditions of Cairo did not differ in anything: the withdrawal of militants from Sinai, the establishment of information exchange on the activities of Vilaeta Sinai, the interruption of HAMAS contacts with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the installation of control over the system of tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border, the elimination of Salafi cells in the sector. Hamas has expressed its willingness to accept something. First of all, it concerns the elimination of Salafi cells. It is unlikely that this idea will appeal to Riyadh, but you will have to sacrifice something.
The Hamas delegation was led by the “number two” man, Musa Abu Marzouk, the former foreign minister, Mahmoud Zahar, and a member of the politburo, Imad Al-Alami. Abu Marzouk is considered a man of Qatar, the rest position themselves as supporters of friendship with Iran. Al-Alami planned in 2015 to ship a ship with Iranian to Gaza weapons, but later refused it. According to others, it was a covering operation, and the weapon was shipped through Sudan and Sinai. Mahmoud Zakhar is a long-time contact of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and one of the organizers of assistance to Vilayet Sinai from the military wing of the Brigade of Izzedin al-Qasam movement. The outcome of the talks is the unofficial communication of the conditions of Cairo to foreign sponsors in the face of Iran and Qatar through Hamas. Those, judging by the ongoing terrorist activity in Sinai, took a pause for reflection.
The plans of the monarchy - to life
The April visit to Cairo by King Salman was a breakthrough in Egyptian-Saudi relations. Kingdom went to the final consolidation of relations with Egypt in the format of "strategic partnership". Countries have signed agreements to create a joint investment fund with an authorized capital of 60 billion Saudi riyals (16 billion dollars), as well as a free trade zone on the Sinai Peninsula with the construction of an 50-kilometer bridge across the Red Sea, which will link Ras Hamid (north of Saudi Arabia ) and Sharm el-Sheikh. According to the Sinai development project, for which KSA allocates a billion dollars to 1,5, it is planned to build 13 industrial complexes, as well as to open the King Salman University in Al-Tour. The agreements were signed along with the framework conventions on housing construction, laying of water utilities and the construction of two power plants (estimated at 2,2 billion dollars), one of which will appear to the west of Cairo.
Agreements were signed on the construction of a port for dry cargo in Ismailia (2 billion dollars), the establishment of two companies in the field of export and training, and a memorandum of understanding between Saudi Aramco and its Egyptian partners. The defining moment in this case were the growing threats to the GCC countries and the loss of the United States of the role of security guarantor. To this were added the problems of the economic plan against the background of the crisis in the hydrocarbon market and the shale revolution in the United States. The KSA and other Arabian monarchies are faced with the issue of creating a sufficiently efficient economic system that would allow diversifying budget filling (now 85 percent are hydrocarbons) and build a collective defense independent of the USA. Without this, there is no reason to talk about rivalry with Iran, which, after lifting the sanctions, gained a second wind.
Cairo here plays the role of the main striking force, since Saudi Arabia itself, by the example of the Yemeni campaign, demonstrated its inability to fight. Hence the decision of Riyadh to finance the purchase of Mistral helicopter carriers by Egypt. Not the last role in this was played by the functionality of ships designed to support local operations. It can be concluded that the KSA and its allies in the medium term will continue to increase efforts to create pan-Arab armed forces under the auspices of the Arab League to ensure their security. In addition to “Arab solidarity”, this is hampered by the fact that inside the GCC lies a fundamental contradiction that can most negatively affect Riyadh’s plans. This is the Qatari-Saudi regional rivalry. With him, more precisely - with the Turkish-Qatari sponsorship of gangs in Sinai, terrorist activity in Egypt is largely associated.
To mutual displeasure
Doha does not believe Riyadh and will not accept Saudi military domination in the GCC, which it proved with the strategic strategic cooperation pact with Ankara. And with Cairo, not everything is clear. The Egyptians refused to fight in Yemen. It is not excluded that the transfer of two islands in the Red Sea under Saudi jurisdiction in Cairo is considered a sufficient payment for the arrival of Saudi investments. As for attempts to get off the oil needle, Arabian monarchies can diversify ways of replenishing the budget only with the help of the UAE model of development of the banking sector, but not at the expense of industry. To do this, they lack the technological culture and their own engineering school.
With a general slowdown in the economy, banks are also under severe pressure. Fortunately, the GCC countries have a different attitude towards the problem of economic reforms. Qatar and Oman are developing trade relations with Iran, but for KSA this is unacceptable. The main architects of the GCC economic policy are the UAE, which insist on the introduction of a five percent regional VAT in the trade relations between members of the alliance. This should offset the cross-border smuggling factor. At the same time, Abu Dhabi is demanding that the KSA and Bahrain central banks adopt the third Basel Protocol, which is designed to help attract foreign investment. In any case, do not expect rapid progress in the attempts of economic reform of the GCC. This process will be uneven in the Gulf countries. Its leaders are the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, which have created optimal conditions for foreign investment, having a smaller than KSA, population with impressive oil and gas revenues.
The problem of Riyadh is the need to reduce the level of state subsidies to the social sphere while simultaneously developing private business and reducing the state sector. It is bloated and ineffective. But quick actions to eliminate food subsidies can fuel the social environment. Tax reform is another painful moment for the GCC member countries. Attempts to introduce corporate and land taxes are perceived by the population painfully. But Saudi Arabia is forced to take extremely unpopular measures. In February, in Riyadh, it was officially recognized that the money supply in the kingdom reached its lowest level in a decade. This is a very alarming signal.
Despite the forcedness of the Saudi-Egyptian alliance, the parties see it differently. King Salman regarding the Egyptian President’s initiative to create pan-Arab armed forces noted that the Saudi side supports this idea, and the delay in their formation occurs for technical and legal reasons, being the subject of further political consultations. He explained that the creation by Riyadh of the anti-terrorist "Islamic Alliance" in 2015 was not an alternative to the Egyptian proposal, since the stated goals of these structures are different: in the first, the fight against terrorism, in the second, the protection of the Arab nation from any external threats. This is especially true of participation in the “anti-Iranian axis” (by the way, Egypt stopped broadcasting the Hezbollah-Al-Manar channel via the Egyptian satellite Nilesat just a day before King Salman arrived in Cairo), and also changes in the positions of the ARE to resolve the situation in Syria and Yemen.
It is unclear how the parties manage to get away from controversial issues, keeping the balance of mutual displeasure at an acceptable level. The "lapping" of Cairo and Riyadh is still in the typical Arab world style: the parties try to hold each other, officially expressing mutual satisfaction with the results of the dialogue. At the same time, internal disagreements accumulate and at a certain moment can break out with hardly predictable consequences. Thus, the transfer of Saudi Arabia to the Egyptian islands caused serious protests in parliament and on the "street."