Saudi crown prince gets assurances of Egypt’s full support

Saudi Arabia invests approximately $27 billion in Egypt.
Sunday 02/12/2018
On firm ground. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz ahead of their meeting at the Egyptian presidential palace. (Egyptian Presidency)
On firm ground. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz ahead of their meeting at the Egyptian presidential palace. (Egyptian Presidency)

CAIRO - Egypt’s show of support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz during a visit to Cairo represents a strong blow to regional powers trying to tarnish Saudi Arabia’s image against the backdrop of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, analysts said.

“Here is the most populous and the most militarily powerful Arab state making it clear that Saudi security and stability are issues of extreme importance to it,” said Egyptian political analyst Mohamed Megahid al-Zayat, an adviser to Egypt’s Regional Centre for Strategic Studies. “This is very important as the map of regional alliances braces for change.”

Crown Prince Mohammed visited Cairo November 26-27 as part of a tour of Arab countries to burnish his image following allegations — denied by the Saudis — that the crown prince was behind the death of Khashoggi, who was killed October 2 in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The crown prince earlier visited Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and stopped in Tunisia after the Egyptian visit before heading to Argentina for the Group of 20 summit.

In Cairo, Crown Prince Mohammed received clear assurances of support from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at a time when Egyptian-Saudi ties are closer than ever.

Sisi, who met with the crown prince twice during his stay in Cairo, highlighted the strength of Egypt’s alliance with Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia’s security and stability are inseparable from those of Egypt,” Sisi said, the Egyptian presidential office reported in a release.

The Cairo stop included consultations regarding economic cooperation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Egyptian-Saudi Business Council convened during the visit, allowing for discussions about industrial integration, cooperation in services and electrical interconnectivity.

Saudi Arabia has invested approximately $27 billion in Egypt and nearly 5,000 Saudi companies operate in the Egyptian market. In 2016, Saudi Arabia pledged $2.5 billion for the development of Sinai.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Riyadh following Khashoggi’s death to deliver a message from Sisi to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Local media reported that the message included assurances that Cairo would not abandon its closest ally.

Shoukry’s visit occurred a few days after Sisi said Egypt would not hesitate to send its army outside national borders to defend Gulf Arab nations.

Egypt’s support for Saudi Arabia at this time, analysts said, can be seen as returning the favour for Riyadh’s backing following the political crisis after the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in 2013.

Sisi, the army chief then, led the army in backing a popular uprising against Morsi, who had failed to deliver on economic and political election promises after a year in office. The move produced an international outcry, especially in Washington and European capitals.

“Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia was there to clarify the situation in Egypt to world leaders, especially the administration of former US President Barack Obama,” Zayat said.

Saudi-Egyptian relations go far beyond trading favours and are based on mutual interests, analysts said, particularly concerns about regional rivals Iran, Qatar and Turkey.

Statements from Saudi Arabia and Egypt during Crown Prince Mohammed’s visit highlighted the position of the Arab Quartet — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — particularly towards Qatar.

Opinion writers in Egypt’s newspapers were clear to view the outcry over Khashoggi’s death within the wider context of the regional situation.

In Egypt’s state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, Ahmed Abdel Tawab said Qatar and Turkey were exploiting Khashoggi’s killing for political ends. Salah Montasser, in the same publication, praised US President Donald Trump for sticking with Riyadh, saying that countries needed to put their own interests first.

Egypt’s foreign policy vision towards Qatar and Turkey, which support the banned Muslim Brotherhood, as well as concern towards Iran’s destabilising regional policies, falls in line with Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy priorities.

“This is a strong reason why [Crown Prince Mohammed] is keen to get Cairo’s political blessing,” said Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University. “This is also true of most of the other countries he visited during his regional tour before travelling to Argentina.”