With its warm welcome to Mohammed Mursi last Wednesday, Saudi Arabia has sent out three honest and explicit messages to Egypt, its new president and other political forces.
The messages include: “We have no problem with the revolution, the Brotherhood, and like you, we are over the Mubarak era” and can thus imagine a future in new relations between the two.
The messages are also directed at liberal forces within Saudi Arabia, who cautioned others of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power, and were alarmed by the competition coming from the group.
Let’s put the past behind us and go through new horizons without limits between the two countries, amid a changing world.
The old Arab times have foiled cooperation before, filled as it was with political instability, corruption and private interests.
Today’s new spirit in the Arab world is based on transparency, election and accountability which can breed optimism and ensure that downfalls of the past are not repeated.
Let’s imagine Saudi Arabia and Egypt welcoming the “Arab Organization for Industrialization” and the romantic idea behind it in 1975.
Egypt was in its renaissance after the October war, while the Kingdom and Gulf states were reaping revenues courtesy the unprecedented high oil prices.
The $2 billion Arab organization, funded by UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, was launched after it was decided that Arab money should be combined with Egyptian expertise and labor skills. The figure was huge for its time.
The organization dreamed of fulfilling the beautiful Arab dream of having unified military forces, aided with an Arab manufacturer that would free it from any outside reliance on the east or west.
Then, there were many articles written describing Arabs as strong and dignified; how Egypt would transform to an industrial giant, and how a new generation of Arab manufactures would become prevalent.
Of course none of that happened.
The organization was led astray by corruption, mismanagement and the partners lost each other’s trust.
However, the bigger strike against Egypt was when it signed the peace treaty with Israel. Saudi Arabia later announced the fizzling down of the organization into thin air.
The organization still exists but under Egyptian ownership, servicing the country’s army with a workforce of 18,000.
But it is not the same dream.
This is not about the organization but about Saudi-Egyptian cooperation and how the organization can be used as a model for causes.
After all, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are close, in terms of geographical proximity, long historical ties, shared religious beliefs. Egypt is not lesser than any GCC country in its closeness to Saudi Arabia, which the kingdom tries to unify in one single bloc.
About 700,000 Saudis live somewhat permanently in Egypt and the biggest community of Egyptian expats in the kingdom is two million.
And Saudis are the biggest investors in Egypt and are excited to do more investments there.
The intimacy with which the kingdom spoke to Mursi, and the spontaneous replies at the end, is a good start and reflects a mutual desire for cooperation. It contradicts everything that was said about Saudi Arabia being worried by the revolution and the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power.
Some even went too far in their suggestions that Saudi Arabia would shun ties with Egypt until the Brotherhood falls ... if Brotherhood falls, Egypt will fall, and an Egypt that is falling is a downfall to all Arabs.
However, this introductory cordial – and successful – visit will re-launch a new stage between the two countries ties.
The kingdom will follow events in Cairo but discreetly, as it knows that there are some arrangements that have to be done inside the Egyptian house, and it believes that it must only stay inside that Egyptian house.
The president and the revolution are busy in forming their relations with the army; the latter controlled Egypt for thousands of years, and this issue needs a long time and patience to even itself out.
Generally, Riyadh will distance itself from all of this, whether in secret or pubic.
It is important for Saudi Arabia that Mursi forms his government so that the $1 billion mutual technical committees that Saudi Crown Prince Salman promised to fund can be made active.
A couple of economic files will be opened between the two countries; Saudi investors need to win Egyptians again, after the gruesome accusations against its alliance with Mubarak in corruption.
Saudi investors in their defense ask: “Wasn’t there only the Mubarak regime men for the past 30 years in Egypt, with their goodness and badness, corruption and evil, how to deal with him?”
Undoubtedly Mursi and his group, whom he does n belong to anymore, have the best characteristic going in their favor: integrity, and this is what attracts investors and businessmen.
Corruption was more than the Saudi investors’ usual complains. After decades of doing business, changing contracts after projects, competition from Egyptian authorities in their business, and the lack of clear relationship that bound the two, Saudi businessmen decided to leave a stadium that’s not theirs.
A businessman will be bored when he finds himself swamped with courts and cases.
This, however, can be changed by Mursi and speedily, and without any cost or money injection, which will work to consolidate trust, and offer a new Egypt to Saudi and GCC investors qho are looking for places for their ever accumulating wealth.
The infamous Egyptian bureaucracy needs to be reduced amid claims of constant fears and sensitivity regarding country’s security … as well as unjustified gains from projects, all of the delayed projects such as the electricity connection, bridges, and the unification of customs…
There was a huge opportunity in Egypt for Saudi capital investment in petrochemicals and housing but there was some mutual accusations. The kingdom accused Egypt of drowning Saudi market with potatoes from which an argument ensued between the two countries on imposing taxes on Saudi Sabic products for drowning the market as well.
Specialized committees will spend hours talking about these issues but Saudis will be able to know a new Egyptian national force, whose spirits will be different from Mubarak’s era, and this will consolidate trust between the two.
They will put forth the interests of the two countries and not private interests under tables.
If there is any integrity lacking in the Muslim Brotherhood, then the free press and elected parliament that will do.
After years, Saudi Arabia and Egypt can talk about a huge project similar to that of the “Arab Organization for Industrialization.”
However, did you notice that context of the article is free from the Brotherhood, yet the Brotherhood is present in this?
The Brotherhood is an Egyptian renaissance project, just like the call for reforms by Mohamed bin Abdulwahab is always seen within the Saudi context. After all, the Brotherhood is a reformist movement like Sheikh Abdulwahab’s and the former was influenced by the latter.
Both movements worked for the world and religion which is why the picture in Salam Palace in Jeddah last Wednesday was magnificent and harmonious
Jamal Khashoggi is as a Saudi writer. This article first appeared in al-Hayat daily on July 14, 2012.