Silver Lining

Food for thought

‘PG Arab states abandoning post-Mubarak Egypt’

by Yusuf Fernandez, source

The new Egyptian authorities have been calling the Arab states of the Persian Gulf to pump more money into Egypt´s ailing economy and claiming that there is a convergence between the interests of Egypt and those of these countries. However, this stance is very unrealistic, given the traditional hostility of most Arab rulers to the Muslim Brotherhood and their mistrust of the economic situation in Egypt.

Currently, Egypt is in a desperate economic situation. The country is languishing under abject poverty and is not receiving the huge investments that it needs. It has spent a large part of its foreign reserves in order to prop up its national currency, the Egyptian pound, since the revolution that toppled the country’s former dictator, Hosni Mubarak, in 2011. Tourism revenues have dropped rapidly and foreign companies have diminished their investments.

The Saudi regime appears not to be interested in aiding Egypt and has maintained a hostile approach towards the Egyptian revolution since the beginning. On January 29, 2011, Saudi King Abdullah told the US President Barack Obama not to humiliate Hosni Mubarak and said the Egyptian leader should be helped, according to The Times of London. “Mubarak and King Abdullah are not just allies, they are close friends, and the king is not about to see his friend cast aside and humiliated,” a senior source in the Saudi capital told The Times. “Mubarak and King Abdullah are not just allies, they are close friends, and the king is not about to see his friend cast aside and humiliated,” a senior source in the Saudi capital told The Times.

Actually, the Saudi regime wants to impose on Egypt its own views on foreign policy. It does not want that Egypt changes Mubarak´s hostile stance towards Iran or Palestine. “The Saudis do not want Egypt to show any leniency towards Hamas…,” one Egyptian diplomat told Al Ahram shortly before Morsi´s first trip to Saudi Arabia in July 2012.

President Mohammad Morsi has tried to reassure the Saudi rulers. Some weeks ago, he even called to establish a NATO-style defense organization between Egypt and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. However, this proposal was rapidly rejected by analysts from those countries because there is actually no ideological link between the new post-Mubarak Egypt and these Arab monarchies. In the past, similar initiatives also failed, like the plan for Egypt and Jordan to join the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council.

Egyptian officials acknowledge that there is a “sense of dismay” in Cairo because despite the continued commitment that Morsi has showed to side with the Saudi point of view on foreign policy issues, Saudi Arabia has not come to the economic rescue of Egypt. “To the contrary, Saudi Arabia has declined repeated appeals from Morsi himself to consider economic aid and succumbed to the American wish to make any aid dependent on the finalization of the deal over the IMF loan,” one official told Al Ahram, adding that “today, it does not seem that the Saudis will reach out to us anyway, even when we sign the IMF loan deal.”

The Saudi regime is widely detested in Egypt due to many reasons, including the mistreatment that many Egyptians suffer in Saudi Arabia. One example of this was the arrest of an Egyptian lawyer and human-rights activist, Ahmed Al Gizawy, in Jeddah in April 2012 under the accusation of drug smuggling, which he rejected. There were protests against his arrest outside Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Cairo and a consulate in Suez, which led Saudi Arabia to withdraw its ambassador. Al Gizawy is a fierce critic of the treatment of Egyptians in Saudi Arabia. He filed a lawsuit against the Saudi government, alleging “detention and torture” of Egyptian citizens. Many Egyptians think that his detention was just a revenge for his public denunciations.

Rejection to the Muslim Brotherhood

Mohamed al-Sheikh, a political writer at Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper, claims that Egypt should make it clear that it does not want to export its revolution to the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and admitted that these countries’ rulers are apprehensive about the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially on the level of the elites.

In this sense, Hossein Ruivaran wrote in the Tehran Times that “in the United Arab Emirates, for example, 11 Egyptian members of the Muslim Brotherhood were recently arrested on charges of extremist activities. The government of Kuwait is also totally opposed to the political presence of the Brotherhood in the country, and the party was disqualified and barred from participating in the recent election. In Bahrain, followers of the Brotherhood are fighting against the government alongside the Shias, and in Saudi Arabia the government has repeatedly arrested members of the party and its books are forbidden.”

Some weeks ago, an Egyptian top-level political delegation was sent to the UAE to negotiate the release of the 11 Egyptians detained for suspected links to Egypt´s Muslim Brotherhood. However, the delegation, which included top presidential adviser Essam Haddad and General Intelligence chief Mohamed Shehata, failed in its mission and was unable to persuade the UAE authorities to release the detainees.

Shortly after the election of Morsi as Egyptian president in June 2012, the police chief of Dubai, Dahi Khalfan, wrote on his twitter account that if the Muslim Brotherhood tried to damage the stability and security of the Persian Gulf, “it would be up to its knees in blood.” He added that the victory of Morsi had been “an unfortunate choice.” Although Khalfan then claimed that his comments were only a personal opinion, they were condemned by many Egyptians and led Egypt’s Foreign Ministry to summon the UAE ambassador to request “a clarification.” Two months later, however, Khalfan launched a new attack on the Brotherhood. He denounced what he called an “international plot” to topple the governments of the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and added that the region needed to be “ready” to counter any threats from the organization´s followers.

Destabilize Egypt

On the other hand, Egypt is facing problems stemming from continuous Saudi funding of Salafist groups in the country. We know that the funding does not just come from Saudi Arabia, but that it comes from other rich Persian Gulf countries as well — not necessarily from their governments, but from influential individuals, an Egyptian diplomat told Al Ahram. Egypt is trying to convince the Persian Gulf countries “concerned to exercise more control over funding sent to Egyptian organizations, so far with little success.” “This is about the exercise of power and regional influence,” said political analyst Amr Hashim Rabie to Al Ahram.

Qatar is seen as the other source of large donations to radical groups in Egypt. “The purpose of these donations…is…about causing instability and this is very disturbing,” a security official told the Egyptian newspaper.

Many Egyptians fear that Qatar may exploit the country´s most severe economic crisis in several decades to increase its influence and obtain lucrative contracts in return for the loans it has given to Egypt. Concern is growing about the continued escalation of Qatari interference in the country´s internal affairs and its decision-making, especially after the visit of the Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, to Cairo last October.

Although Cairo and Doha have denied reports of a direct link between the new Qatari loans worth 4-billion dollars and a plan to increase Qatari investments in the Suez Canal, some reports suggest that these investments have become a condition for the aid. According to Al Ahram, this possibility has raised concerns in many circles, including the army and the intelligence, “over the involvement of a foreign investor in an area of direct national security interest.” Other conditions, according the Egyptian media, would include Egyptian approval of Qatari nominees in several international and regional forums.

Some Egyptian and international experts consider dangerous Egypt´s dependence on the Persian Gulf Arab states not only for political reasons -the probable destabilization of some of these countries due to internal protests in the near future-, but for some economic ones too. Christopher Davidson of the Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies of the University of Durham (UK), told the VOANews that “all the Gulf States will run dry of hydrocarbons at some point,” he said. “They are putting a lot of emphasis on diversifying their economies, but without great results yet. So, the bottom line is: Bahrain has more or less run out of oil and gas, which means its ruling family is no longer able to distribute wealth and privileges and opportunities to its population in the way it used… I think the neighboring Gulf States, especially ultra-rich Qatar and United Arab Emirates are looking rather fearfully at what is happening in Bahrain. Could it be something they themselves will have to face in the not too distant future?”

Therefore, and in order to confront Egypt´s deteriorating economic situation, some Egyptian experts are suggesting an increase of the country´s relations with Asia as the best way to guarantee its economic development. Some strategic thinkers in Egypt are looking to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), India, and the ASEAN countries as the main pillars of this new strategy of engaging Asia.

Many Egyptians experts also consider that the country should not hesitate to open up to Iran. “There should be no contradiction between opening up to Iran and keeping good relations with the rest of the Persian Gulf. Over-linking the two matters was a policy of ousted former president Mubarak, and it was a policy of exaggerated association with the Saudi agenda rather than anything else,” political scientist Hassan Nafaa told Al Ahram.


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