Egypt steps up coordination with Gulf allies amid rising regional tensions
CAIRO - Events in the Arabian Gulf and threats to the security of Arab countries dominated talks between Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nayhan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
C rown Prince Mohammed, who is also commander of the UAE armed forces, and Sisi focused on the May 12 sabotage of four ships off Fujairah and the attack on two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia a day later, Egyptian Presidency Spokesman Bassam Radi said.
Egypt, Sisi said, backed the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia against attempts to undermine their stability and security. Egypt will work to increase cooperation with the Emirates in all fields, he added.
Crown Prince Mohammed arrived in Cairo the same week as Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa visited Sisi, indicating the importance Arab leaders attach to Egypt.
Talks May 12 between Sisi and King Hamad covered similar issues as the discussions May 15 with Crown Prince Mohammed, with a focus on dealing with interference in Arab affairs and challenges facing Arab security. Egypt is closely following developments in the Gulf region because of possible effects from the events on its economy and security.
Apart from Egypt’s close alliance with Gulf countries, Egyptian officials are concerned that Iranian hostilities, against the background of increasing US pressure on Tehran, would threaten navigation in the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, which gives Cairo a sizeable portion of its national income.
The fear in Cairo is that Iran would urge its proxies to threaten security in the Bab el Mandeb Strait and the southern entrance of the Red Sea.
“Everybody expects the Islamic Republic to escalate its belligerence in the coming days,” said Akram Badr Eddine, a political science professor at Cairo University.
Egyptian concerns are given credence by the control the Iran-aligned Houthi militia imposes on strategic cities in Yemen, including some on the Red Sea. The Houthis have attacked ships off Yemen’s Red Sea coast several times.
Egypt has taken steps since the Houthis overran most of Yemen in 2014 to shield navigation in the Suez Canal against such threats. In January 2017, Sisi ordered Egypt’s southern fleet to police the southern entrance of the Red Sea.
This was part of Egyptian action to protect economic and security interests of Arab countries in the Gulf whose oil crosses the Bab el Mandeb Strait en route to the Suez Canal and international markets.
Sisi has said that Egypt would not stand idly by if the security of Gulf states was threatened. He said during his meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed that Egypt’s security was inseparable from that of the Arabian Gulf countries and described relations with the United Arab Emirates as a model for strategic cooperation between Arabs.
Crown Prince Mohammed stressed the importance of coordination with Egypt. He said working together was important in order for Arab countries to stand against challenges facing them and thwart interference in their affairs. Crown Prince Mohammed described Egypt as a “cornerstone” of security and stability in the region, Radi said.
It is not clear how Arab countries would act if any of them came under attack. Sisi has been propagating the formation of a joint Arab military force since he became president in 2014.
Sisi has sent Egyptian Army units to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia several times to participate in multilateral drills. Egypt also hosted troops from Arab armies in a step towards the formation of the Arab force.
Political analysts in Cairo pointed to the need for increased coordination between Egypt and the Gulf countries.
“Conditions have become very difficult in the region,” said Mohamed Hegazi, a former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister. “Relations between Egypt and other Arabian Gulf states are exemplary, especially when it comes to the requirements of security in those countries.”