Sisi’s recent tour seeks to refresh Egyptian-Gulf ties

Sunday 14/05/2017
Solidarity. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (R) bids farewell to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi following their meeting in Abu Dhabi, on May 4. (AFP)

London- Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently completed visits to several Arab Gulf countries, part of efforts by the Egyptian leader to strengthen regional sup­port at a time of perceived Egyp­tian-Gulf tensions.
Sisi had high-level meetings with leaders of four of the six Gulf Coop­eration Council (GCC) countries — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emir­ates, Kuwait and Bahrain — during a 15-day tour. The aim of the visits was to stress Egyptian bilateral ties with the Gulf states and the GCC in general.
Sisi and Gulf leaders focused on regional crises such as Syria, Libya and Yemen, as well as combating foreign interference in the region, namely from Iran.
The Egyptian president began his tour April 23 in Saudi Arabia. Egyp­tian state media said Sisi’s meeting with Saudi King Salman bin Ab­dulaziz Al Saud represented a new beginning in bilateral relations be­tween the two countries.
Relations between Riyadh and Cairo had been strained over Sisi’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and the attempted transfer of Red Sea islands to Saudi Ara­bia, which remains tied up in the Egyptian court system. Despite both sides claiming that relations remained good, Riyadh halted oil shipments to Egypt — part of billions of dollars’ worth of aid pledged by the kingdom to Cairo — in October 2016 without citing any reason. Shipments resumed in April ahead of Sisi’s visit.
“It’s no secret that Egypt and Saudi Arabia have different visions regarding some affairs,” the general manager of the Saudi-owned Al Ara­biya News channel, Turki Aldakhil, wrote in an opinion piece.
Aldakhil said differences of opin­ion do not necessarily mean divi­sion and that Saudi-Egyptian ties were solid overall.
“Having different points of view regarding an affair or two does not mean abandoning cooperation on 100 other issues that they agree on,” he said.
“The meeting was a reflection of the political will to build on ties,” Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokes­man Ahmed Abu Zeid said.
Sisi visited the United Arab Emir­ates on May 3-4, meeting with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Moham­med bin Zayed al-Nahyan. In ad­dition to discussing bilateral ties, the two leaders pledged to increase inter-Arab coordination and consul­tation to address regional crises and foreign interference in the region.
“The current situation in this re­gion requires inter-Arab coopera­tion and solidarity that can enable the Arab nation to safeguard the security and stability of Arab states and counter existing common chal­lenges, the most important of which is the growing danger of terrorism, extremism and foreign interfer­ence,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
Sisi then headed to Kuwait where security remained a key theme. “The security of the Gulf states is the security of Egypt,” Sisi assured Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah.
He added that Egypt would not al­low foreign countries to undermine the security of its “brother coun­tries” in the Arabian Gulf, in what many observers deemed an implicit reference to tensions between GCC countries and Iran.
The Egyptian president visited Bahrain on May 8 where he once again pledged Egyptian support for a Gulf country. Sisi said Egypt would support Bahrain in confronting any “regional or foreign threats,” in what analysts said was another reference to Iranian regional interference.
The visit had a clear “political di­mension” by drawing attention to Egypt’s role “in supporting the sta­bility of the Arab Gulf region and preserving [Egypt’s] brotherly rela­tions with the Gulf States,” Egyptian Ambassador to Bahrain Suha Ibra­him al-Far said.
Sisi’s Gulf tour came weeks before US President Donald Trump was to visit the region, where he will at­tend a US-Arab and Islamic summit in Riyadh. That meeting’s agenda includes discussions on security and the fight against terrorism, as well as Arab Gulf concerns about Iran.
It was not clear whether Sisi would attend the summit. Riyadh has not announced whether it had invited Sisi, even as other Arab and Islamic leaders said they had re­ceived invitations and would be attending.