The situation hasn’t changed much since Egypt was a monarchy during the era of the Fouad and then Farouq and when it turned into a republic following a revolution and then became socialist. This was followed by the era of Anwar al-Sadat and the Camp David Accord, and of Hosni Mubarak and Mohammad Mursi of the Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries have always considered Egypt a basic pillar in their strategic calculations.
When relations were once unstable for around five years in the 1960s, the entire region was disturbed. Relations, however, restored their historic path immediately after the 1967 War as the region’s stability is based on Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
This explains the uproar stirred by the Egyptian opposition, particularly opposition figures who reside outside Egypt, and the parties allied with them prior to and during Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz’s visit to Egypt.
The opposition wanted to embarrass Egyptian President Abdelfattah el-Sisi and the Egyptian government because it knew it could not prevent the visit, which turned out to be the most important one since King Faisal’s meeting with Gamal Abdelnasser. That visit, in 1969, corrected and solidified the relations which we see today.
The opposition exaggerated its narratives about Saudi-Egyptian disputes regarding the region and resorted to these exaggerations to create doubts about the success of the visit.
The surprise, however, is that the agreements signed between the two countries were more significant than what we expected. The agreements are unprecedented and they came as a surprise even to those who know how close the ties are between King Salman and President Sisi.
Most of the agreements are related to strategic projects of which the most important is building a bridge that links the two countries and the two continents, Asia and Africa, together. This bridge is no less significant than the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, the Turkish Bosphorus bridge, which links Asia and Europe. After this bridge over the Red Sea is built, it will become the first geographic passage between Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
The agreements also included power-related projects and declaring that the Tiran and Sanafir islands will be returned to Saudi Arabia. There are 15 other agreements which will enhance the relation between the two shores of the Red Sea.
The Egyptian opposition and the rivals of Gulf countries, particularly of Saudi Arabia, have a shortsighted vision that aims to sabotage relations to serve their immediate interests. However, for Cairo and Riyadh, the relation between the two countries has been of strategic importance since 1936.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia do not allow disturbing the balance of these relations due to disagreements over minor bilateral stances or different points of view regarding regional developments or journalistic articles.
Wise politicians differentiate between what’s strategic and what’s minor, between higher aims and tactical initiatives, between disagreements and differences and when it comes to their calculations, they leave space to act and be diverse and to even disagree. Isn’t there a problem in the Saudi and Gulf relations with Egypt?
All the Egyptian opposition wants is to thwart any cooperation to prove that the government has failed and thus corner itAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The irony is that most of the frequent complaints by both the parties are related to the weaknesses in implementing the cooperation already agreed upon. Therefore, both parties want greater cooperation but the work mechanism often confronts obstructions that are not political at all.
Gulf countries want to increase their investment and economic projects in Egypt and the Egyptians also want that. What ruins collective efforts work whether on the level of the governmental or private sector is old bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is a worse enemy than all other lurking enemies.
There are in fact major ambitions but systems which do not harmonize with the new world and the bureaucracy protectors who miss opportunities for possible developmental transitions have diminished them.
If Gulf countries’ huge financial investments and international commercial partnership team up with Egyptian firms and enter the biggest market in the region, they can turn Egypt’s developmental problems into traits and transform the overpopulation into an example to the power of Egypt and the region and thus put Egypt among the ranks of tiger economies. The financial surplus and overpopulation require brave political decisions to overcome the slow pace.
Crisis of chronic failure
The Egyptians, the Gulf citizens and the entire Arabs want to overcome this crisis of chronic failure. Truth be told, the ambitious agreements which King Salman and President Sisi signed express the hopes of the region’s people - hopes that they have a future that’s better than our current situation.
People want governments to focus on building, developing and meeting their needs and not to take political stances and repeat their statements. These promised projects represent the biggest program for work between two countries in the region. This is why this came as happy news to everyone except for the opposition.
All the Egyptian opposition wants is to thwart any cooperation to prove that the government has failed and thus corner it although most of the affairs discussed during the king’s visit were related to development plans that concern the present and the future of 100 million Egyptian and Saudi citizens. They aim to enhance their lives and their children’s future away from political tampering.
Egypt is a country with huge capabilities and it deserves everyone’s attention because the region stands strong when Egypt is solid. The US is encouraged by Iran’s openness and considers the latter a promising state although when comparing it to Egypt, it’s a very underdeveloped system.
In response to the international project to make Iran succeed, we must bet on Egypt. This is what the Saudis, Emiratis and the rest who believe in developmental projects and not just military ones are doing.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 12, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed