Saudi-Egyptian meeting a key moment of summit
London - Saudi Arabia continued its efforts to promote inter-Arab reconciliation and solidarity at the Arab League summit, a gathering defined by a sense of urgency due to the numerous geopolitical, military and economic issues affecting the region.
Ahead of the summit, media speculated on what the meeting could deliver in terms of Arab homogeneity, particularly in Saudi-Egyptian relations, which have cooled in recent months.
“Arabs at the Amman summit are at crossroads. They will either make decisions that are up to the level of events and crises or the coming situation will be worse,” Ahmed al- Gemeia wrote in Saudi Arabia’s Al- Riyadh newspaper.
Mohamed Barakat wrote in Egypt’s Al-Akhbar daily that “Arab peoples, countries, presidents, kings and princes are the only losers if their leaders… fail to break the ice and to overcome differences that have divided them.”
Factoring heavily in the kingdom’s agenda was the containment of Iran, which is, along with its numerous proxies, viewed by Gulf Arab countries as a regional destabilising factor, as is evident in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud had a full schedule at the Arab League gathering, including meetings with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who recently hosted Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Baghdad in an effort to improve relations.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al- Jaafari said “ties between the two countries did not reach that point that required reconciliation and that the relations were never ever discontinued between the two in the past”.
All eyes were on the Saudi-Egyptian fence-mending efforts, a source of major speculation due to neither country acknowledging the rift publicly.
Tensions between the two countries developed after several deals were signed during King Salman’s visit to Cairo in April 2016. One agreement called for Saudi Arabia delivering to Egypt, as a part of a $23 billion aid package, 700,000 tonnes of refined fuel a month, while Egypt was to hand over control of two Red Sea islands to the kingdom, a move blocked by the Egyptian courts.
During that period, Saudi Arabia deposited $2 billion in Egypt’s central bank and helped it secure a $12 billion loan package from the International Monetary Fund.
Last October, however, the kingdom stopped oil shipments and Egypt voted for a Russian-backed, Riyadh-opposed, UN resolution on Syria, which led to a reported massacre of civilians in Aleppo in December. However, the kingdom has since resumed the oil shipments.
King Salman and Sisi met on the sidelines of the summit, with both sides reportedly optimistic about the results.
Jubeir, during a news conference, described the meeting as “fruitful, constructive, amicable and very positive”.
Jubeir downplayed any differences over Syria, saying: “There is an exaggeration of interpreting what is called difference of the Saudi and Egyptian positions as the two countries are seeking to find a political solution to the crisis according to Geneva I declaration, the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.” He said both countries were contributing to a political solution to the crisis.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the “strategic alliance between the two countries is indispensable for reaching stability in the region”.
A statement from the Egyptian presidency said the two leaders “stressed the importance of pushing forward and developing bilateral relations in all fields” and that King Salman invited Sisi for an official visit to the kingdom, which Sisi welcomed and followed with an invitation for the king to visit Cairo.
Sisi is expected to visit Saudi Arabia this month.
In a thinly veiled reference to Iran, the Egyptian president said it was “regrettable that certain powers are benefitting from the unprecedented situation in the region to bolster their influence and expand their control”.