President Mohammed Mursi will head to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday on his first foreign visit as Egypt’s head of state, the official MENA news agency said on Saturday.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia “has invited President Mursi to visit Saudi Arabia to strengthen relations between both countries in all areas,” said Saudi ambassador Ahmed Qattan, quoted by MENA, adding that Mursi will fly to Riyadh on Wednesday.
It will be his first foreign trip since he was sworn in as president last week.
Mursi, a long-time member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is the country’s first elected civilian president.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia enjoyed close relations under Mursi’s predecessor Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by a popular uprising last year.
But a diplomatic crisis between the two regional powers saw Riyadh recall its ambassador in Cairo and close its embassy for several days, after protests demanding the release of a lawyer and rights activist detained in the kingdom.
Some Saudi officials are believed to have supported Mursi’s former electoral rival, a former prime minister and ex-military general, in hopes of continuing the warm relationship once shared with Egypt’s ousted leader Hosni Mubarak.
Iran, Egypt and Gulf
Egypt’s official news agency MENA said Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah invited Mursi “to strengthen relations.” The announcement came after Mursi met with Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt on Saturday.
Analysts have urged Gulf States to embrace the new Egypt under the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood, and work to reduce Tehran’s chances in making closer ties with Cairo. They say Tehran is interested to widen its ally-base in the region to counter U.S. and Gulf States.
So far, Saudi Arabia has offered $1 billion to Egypt’s Central Bank after election results were announced and another $500 million for general economic assistance. The kingdom also allocated $250 million for natural gas exports to Egypt, Saudi Ambassador Ahmed Kattan was quoted in MENA as saying.
Late June, an Iranian news agency said Mursi had voiced interest in restoring long-severed ties with Tehran to create a strategic “balance” in the region, but a Mursi aide denied the interview ever took place.
Iran’s Fars agency said it spoke to Mursi a few hours before Egypt’s presidency election results were announced and quoted him saying the two countries should get closer - comments that go counter to Western efforts to isolate Tehran over its nuclear program.
In related story, UAE’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that the Gulf state is keen on strengthening relations with Egypt.
“We are keen on strengthening these historical and brotherly relations during the upcoming period politically and economically,” Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said in a statement published on state news agency WAM.
He welcomed Mursi’s remarks pledging “to not meddle in the affairs of others and not export the revolution” that brought him to power.