President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz discussed deepening bilateral relations after Sharm El-Sheikh’s Economic Summit, which they judged brought a satisfying amount of foreign direct investment projects.
The Saudi Kingdom contributions reached $4bn, nearly half of which are destined to shore up Egypt’s cash reserves. The late King Abdullah was the mastermind behind the Economic Summit, which engaged over 50 countries. “That kind of support guarantees the success of the summit,” political sociologist Said Sadek previously stated in an interview with Daily News Egypt last Monday.
Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz said he hoped the kingdom’s support would enhance intra-regional trade and investment in Egypt and back the government’s efforts to stabilise the monetary market, in a meeting with Al-Sisi on the sidelines of the summit, which concluded Sunday.
The crown prince, also the former head of the Saudi General Intelligence Services, told Al-Sisi that King Salman bin Abdulaziz is keen on following in the footsteps of his older brother King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz concerning working together with Egypt towards economic development.
Sadek said that Saudi Arabia has an interest in the stability of Egypt as a major proponent of the region’s stability. Nonetheless he pointed out a challenging situation with the change of Saudi policies after the new reshuffle of powers in the kingdoms.
“For one thing, Saudi Arabia is now strengthening its diplomatic ties with Turkey, stemming from a common desire to contain the threats of the Islamic State (IS) group, as well as their opposition to the Syrian regime led by President Bashar Al-Assad,” Sadek stated.
Turkey was uninvited to Egypt’s major investment event, and the country hosts the Muslim Brotherhood’s Revolutionary Council speaking against Al-Sisi’s government, which accuses the group of promoting an anti-state agenda from Istanbul. Moreover, Egypt does not oppose Al-Assad but seeks a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
But most importantly, it is the status of the Brotherhood that could be the core of disparity between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. There could be a non-alignment with Al-Sisi if the latter decides to loosen the crackdown on the Islamist organisation banned in Egypt, a choice upon which the entire legitimacy of Al-Sisi’s regime is based.
As for why this could happen, experts speculate that King Salman seems to prioritise threats to the kingdom differently from King Abdullah’s.
According to political analyst Mohamed Mahmoud, “King Abdullah was concerned with restraining any influence of the Brotherhood that would destabilise the leading role of the kingdom, which established itself as the actor of the Sunni community,” Mahmoud explained in statements to Daily News Egypt Monday over the phone.
Saudi Arabia was among the first and strongest supporters of the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi, with King Abdullah’s declaration that his country stands behind Al-Sisi in the fight against terrorism. What followed was a period of crackdown and security pursuit of the group and its figures.
The kingdom pledged $5bn in cash, deposits and oil products days after the Egyptian army returned to power in July 2013. Following Al-Sisi’s presidential victory, King Abdallah assembled a conference of donor countries to finance over $60bn worth of projects in Egypt. The new king vowed to carry on the same approach.
Yet, unlike his predecessor, Mahmoud said that King Salman might not put the fight against the Brotherhood as the top priority on his agenda, placing more importance to the issue in Yemen, in addition to fears of terrorist groups, namely IS. He even suggested that Saudi Arabia has an interest in endorsing the Yemeni Taggammu for Reform, a political party affiliated to the Brotherhood, opposing the Houthis.
“Saudi Arabia feels the Iranian menace coming if the Houthis are officially founded in Yemen, which could expand its influence to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon,” Mahmoud stated in order to explain King Salman’s political approach.
Mahmoud claimed there could be pressures on Egypt to push for reconciliation with the Brotherhood, noting that this would be nearly impossible. “An alternative solution would be relaxing security measures against them, releasing some from prison or partly integrating them in political life,” he said.
Al-Sisi had repeatedly said there would be “no reconciliation with those who have blood on their hands”, referring to the Brotherhood, now considered a terrorist group, and accused of being behind most armed groups operating in Egypt against police and military officers.
Relations with Turkey, which Saudi Arabia wants to ameliorate, as well as those with Qatar, show no signs of progress, although a minor Qatari delegation was present at the Economic Summit. Experts had previously said that Egypt would always freely act according to its best interests.
“Remember, economy buys politics,” Sadek had stated to Daily News Egypt, when asked to which extent countries could overlook their political differences for the sake of business.