News Analysis: Saudi king's visit to Egypt shows no major disagreement

2016-04-07 21:19:18 GMT2016-04-08 05:19:18(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

  by Mahmoud Fouly

  CAIRO, April 7 (Xinhua) -- The ongoing first official visit of the Saudi king to Egypt shows no major disagreement and indicates keenness of both sides to maintain strategic alliance amid regional challenges, said Egyptian and Gulf political experts.

  Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz's five-day visit since Thursday is expected to see the signing of energy deals worth about 21.5 billion U.S. dollars to cover Egypt's oil needs for the next five years and to develop the restive Sinai region.

  NO MAJOR DISAGREEMENT

  Saudi Arabia, along with other oil-rich Gulf states including the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, provided Egypt with billions of dollars to maintain the country's stability following the military removal of former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 after mass protests against his one-year rule.

  The visit and the anticipated deals seem to refute the theory of those who believe a crucial disagreement between Riyadh and Cairo has emerged on the positions on the Syrian and the Yemeni crises.

  "The main regional goals of the two countries are identical, but there might only be some differences on the mechanisms and tools of carrying out these goals, particularly on Syria and Yemen," said Yousri al-Azabawi, researcher at Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

  While Egypt maintains a neutral position on the Syrian issue and supports a political settlement of the crisis, Saudi Arabia calls for immediate departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Iran and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah, opponents of the Sunni kingdom.

  "There is no deep disagreement between Riyadh and Cairo, whether on the issues of Syria, Yemen, Lebanon or Libya, but the tactics and means to achieve joint purposes might be different," said Omar al-Hassan, head of the Gulf Center for Strategic Studies.

  He highlighted the ongoing bilateral programs, common strategies and constant coordination, "so there is no major or deep disagreement at all between the two countries."

  NATIONAL SECURITY

  "Egypt reiterates that its national security is part of the Gulf security and vice versa, while most Gulf states take Egypt as the backbone of the Arab security and joint Arab action," said the chief of the Gulf Center.

  Hassan pointed out that the Gulf states see it is important to keep Egypt strong and stable, and "that is why the king came to Egypt with projects to support the Egyptian economy and enhance the strategic relations."

  In mid-March, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi sat next to King Salman while attending the concluding day of the three-week joint military maneuvers of over 20 Arab and Islamic states in north Saudi Arabia.

  "Egypt is a crucial partner of the Saudi-led alliance against the Houthi group in Yemen and member of the 39 allied Islamic states including Saudi Arabia," said the Gulf expert.

  Professor Azabawi of Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center said that both Saudi and Egyptian leaderships have "certainty" about the significance of maintaining their "strong strategic alliance" amid ongoing regional challenges.

  During a summit in March 2015 in the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh, Arab leaders agreed in principle on the formation of an Arab joint military force to combat terrorism and secure the region, yet the issue is still under discussion.

  "Saudi Arabia is aware that it cannot lead the Arab world alone, especially when the Turks and the Iranians have their own regional projects and ambitions," the expert told Xinhua.

  Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran have always been regional poles apart, while Egypt's ties with Iran have been severed for over three decades after Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

  Experts believe that Riyadh's approach with Cairo helps create a kind of balance to face the Iranian expansion in the region and to revive joint Arab work.

  "Saudi Arabia and Egypt are pillars for the joint Arab work, while Arab or Gulf communication with Iran cannot be foreshadowed at least for the time being," said Hassan.

  On the other hand, Azabawi said that considering Iran's regional expansion plans, reviving the joint Arab work through Riyadh-Cairo alliance has become "a must."

  MEDIATION BETWEEN CAIRO, ANKARA

  While Saudi Arabia and Turkey maintain good political and economic ties, tense relations between Egypt and Turkey peaked after Ankara condemned the military ouster of Morsi and opened its borders to host his fleeing loyalists.

  "I believe one of the main purposes of the visit maybe Saudi mediation between Egypt and Turkey, and the deals can be a positive initiative through which Saudi Arabia can be an active mediator," said Nourhan al-Sheikh, political science professor at Cairo University.

  The professor added that Saudi Arabia wants to bridge the gap between Cairo and Ankara and to guarantee a high-level representation of Egypt in the upcoming Islamic summit to be held in Turkey in a few days.

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