Egypt, Kuwait hope to achieve elusive unity amid regional challenges

Speculation was rife ahead of Sisi’s visit on whether the standoff between the Arab Quartet and Qatar would be part of discussions in Kuwait City.
Saturday 07/09/2019
Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah (L) receiving Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Kuwait City, September 1. (KUNA)
A focus on security. Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah (L) receiving Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Kuwait City, September 1. (KUNA)

CAIRO - Egypt and Kuwait are apparently prepared to try to propel Arab countries into more unity despite growing regional challenges.

The effort was at the centre of conversation as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi travelled to Kuwait August 31 at the invitation of Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah.

Sisi met with several Kuwaiti officials, including Sheikh Sabah, to discuss bilateral ties, counterterrorism cooperation and regional developments.

“The two leaders also discussed means of boosting bilateral relations, especially in the light of the positive results of Egypt’s economic reform programme,” Egyptian Presidency spokesman Bassam Radi said.

The visit acquired special importance in the light of developments in the region, analysts said.

Iran is stepping up destabilising activities, threatening maritime navigation in the Arab Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

Affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen are working with the Iran-aligned Houthi militia to undermine a Saudi-led coalition trying to end the Houthi insurgency.

“Current threats to the security of the Arab Gulf are just unprecedented,” said Mohamed Hegazi, a former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister. “Iran is also using its arms to destabilise the countries of the region, in an apparent bid to realise an old Farsi expansionist dream.”

Sisi said, during his meeting with Sheikh Sabah, that the security of the Gulf region was inseparable from that of Egypt. He and the emir stressed the need to enhance Arab cooperation to meet the challenges facing the region.

“This is especially important, given the diverse and dangerous crises fellow Arab states face,” Sisi said.

He commended Kuwait for working to politically settle crises in the Arab world, especially in Yemen, the Egyptian Presidency spokesman said.

Speculation was rife ahead of Sisi’s visit on whether the standoff between the Arab Quartet — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — and Qatar would be part of discussions in Kuwait City.

Two days before Sisi arrived in Kuwait, Speaker of the Kuwaiti National Assembly Marzouq al-Ghanim, arrived in Doha with a message from Sheikh Sabah to Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

Qatari Defence Minister Khalid Al Attiyah had earlier said Doha was open to “unconditional dialogue.”

A day after Sisi left Kuwait, a Qatari delegation met with Sheikh Sabah.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Qatar was not a “direct issue” in the talks between Sisi and Sheikh Sabah. He said they had discussed the situation in the Gulf Cooperation Council area and regional efforts to overcome challenges.

“Qatar had not fulfilled demands in the list submitted by Arab Quartet members,” Shoukry told the Saudi MBC channel September 1. “This is why the boycott is still intact.”

He described Qatari policies as “negative” and harmful to regional stability.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in July 2017 in reaction to Doha’s alleged destabilising role in the region and its suspected sponsorship of terrorist movements. The quartet submitted demands to Doha, including the handover of dozens of wanted figures. Qatar has not met any of the demands.

This was Sisi’s third visit to Kuwait since becoming president in Egypt in June 2014. He visited the Gulf state in January 2015 and in May 2017.

Egypt and Kuwait have enjoyed special ties since Kuwait’s independence in 1961. Like in other Gulf states, Egyptian teachers, doctors and engineers were instrumental in putting Kuwait on track as a state.

Kuwaiti students enroll at schools and universities in Cairo. It was an Egyptian who established the first theatre in Kuwait. The first head of the University of Kuwait was Egyptian. Kuwait’s first constitution was drafted by an Egyptian.

This was probably why Sisi was warmly received in Kuwait City and by the Kuwaiti media. Photos of the Egyptian president, alongside picture of Sheikh Sabah, were posted along the sides of the road from Kuwait International Airport to Bayan Palace.

Kuwait invests more than $15 billion in Egypt’s private and government sectors. There are more than 1,200 Kuwaiti companies operating in Egypt. Annual trade exchange between the two countries amounts to $3 billion.

“Apart from their strong economic and investment cooperation, Egypt and Kuwait stand a good chance of mending Arab fences,” said Hassan Salama, a professor of political science at Cairo University. “The two countries follow what can be described as ‘quite diplomacy,’ which qualifies them for a bigger role in bringing Arab states closer together.”

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