Saudi Arabia re-emerges as powerful Middle East player

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has reemerged as the Middle East’s most powerful influential country, Richard Spencer said in article published in the UK’s The Telegraph.

“The Saudis are our brothers,” said Sayed Sami Hassan from a tent in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “They are Muslims, they believe in God. [Egypt’s ousted Islamist] President Mursi, now he was an agent of America and Qatar, but the Saudis are helping us.”

Saudi Arabia’s influence is being felt specifically in Egypt and Syria, said Spencer, adding that “not long ago, [the kingdom was] written off as a gerontocracy whose oil billions could not prevent it being outmaneuvered by a host of rivals in the power struggles of the Middle East.”

Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to congratulate Egypt after its army ousted President Mohammed Mursi and dissolved the Islamist-made constitution. The kingdom also offered Egypt $5 billion in aid, which was followed by the United Arab Emirates’ $3 billion and Kuwait’s $4 billion.

Qatar had bailed out Mursi’s government with $8 billion, but the other Gulf countries had easily beaten that.

Spencer said that in the last few years, Qatar was the most important backer of the Muslim Brotherhood, while other Gulf countries were uneasy regarding the group’s “reformist, populist brand of political Islam.”

“Saudi and the UAE were very unhappy with Mursi’s government and its impact on the region,” said Theodore Karasik, research director at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “They took advantage of Mursi’s failures to engineer this change of government and are seeking to shape policy according to their own vision.”

Both Egyptian army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour have ties with Riyadh, said Spencer. Sisi used to be a military attaché in Saudi Arabia, and Mansour was an advisor to the Saudi Ministry of Commerce for seven years.

As for Syria, Spencer argues that Saudi Arabia “won another small battle” when Syrian National Coalition’s interim premier Ghassan Hitto – known to have ties with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, resigned.

“Two days earlier, Saudi’s man, Ahmad Assi Jarba, a tribal sheikh of more traditional bent, became its president,” he added.

Spencer cited analysts as saying that the Saudi Arabia’s latest moves were not the only factors contributing to its rise of self-confidence, but also because of the change of leadership in Qatar.

Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad al-Thani had recently handed over power to his, Crown Prince Tamim.

The change of leadership “was seen locally as less of a sign that Qatar was about to become a North Europe-style ‘bicycling monarchy’ and more that conservative local clan leaders were unhappy with his international image as a sponsor of political Islam,” said Spencer.

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