11/10/2016, 14.39
EGYPT - SAUDI ARABIA
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Cairo breaks with Riyadh and looks to Moscow (and Tehran) to boost economy

Egypt rejects Saudi backed UN resolution against Syria. But the real reasons are economic: Riyadh is going through a serious crisis and is losing its sphere of influence in the region. Iran and Russia aid Egyptian coffers. Egyptian military advisers in Damascus.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - The relations between the two most influential Sunni countries in the Arab world, which seemed to have blossomed after the last official visit of the Saudi King to Egypt, have deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks, reaching levels of almost in open enmity.

Yet the recent meeting between the leaders of the two nations had been the encouraging given the multi-million dollar contracts signed, the supply of crude oil for five years and the definition of maritime boundaries between the two countries. This was also the setting for the controversial "transfer" (or "return", according to different views) of the two Egyptian islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

What happened in the space of just a few weeks? What was the reason for the deterioration of friendly and mutually supportive relations, crowned by a decades-long tradition of ties between Egypt and the countries of the Arab Gulf?

The Arab press points to the position adopted by Cairo at the UN Security Council where it voted against an anti-Syrian resolution sponsored by Riyadh. For Saudi Arabia this decision was a sort of betrayal. This reason might appear a valid one.

However, the truth lies elsewhere. The Gulf countries - and especially the once opulent Saudi Arabia - are going through a serious economic crisis; the coffers of the Saudi kingdom are emptying, given the exorbitant expenses incurred in financing wars and losing jihadist factions in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.

In Yemen Riyadh is directly involved with troops on the ground and the allegations of war crimes - raised with increasing frequency - by international organizations, which in the past were much more permissive of the violations human rights committed by the Saudis.

With exhausted - or at least reduced - funding, Saudi diplomacy is losing enormous influence in the behind the scenes management of the internal affairs of some countries. And the recent election of Michel Aoun (archenemy of Riyadh) as President of Lebanon was the clearest proof od this.

The scandals in Riyadh are mounting and not a day goes by without dire news on the economic front: the latest in order of time, the disappearance of one trillion dollars from the coffers of the kingdom, the news was spread on social media last November 8 by sources close to the royal court.

 

No longer able to continue to inject rivers of cash into Egyptian coffers as in the past, Saudi Arabia therefore needed excuses to stop sending "aid." While Cairo, having an inkling of these decisions, has reversed course by choosing the current winning horse: Iran, Syria and its greatest "friend-enemy" of all time, Russia.

The Saudi oil company Aramco has suddenly suspended oil exports to Egypt; a "punitive" move, which is accompanied by the cut in funding to Cairo. Moves that forced Egypt to accept a $ 12 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), payable in three years. The decision which needs to be ratified by the IMF's top management at its meeting scheduled tomorrow, will require long-term and extreme conditions, which are detrimental. These include the subordination of the Egyptian pound to market conditions, the liberalization of the exchange rates and the reduction of state support for electricity supply and fuel costs (which are around 7.9% of public expenditure). These choices  will have adverse effects on Egypt's civilian population, already at stretched to the limit. And discontent has begun to spread, so much so that tomorrow a sustained popular protest has been called by the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, Egyptian revenge was not long in coming: on November 8, the Administrative Court of Cairo rejected the agreement signed between the Egyptian president and the Saudi monarch Salman, on the return (or sale) of the two islands. It also sentenced Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi to pay a fine of 800 Egyptian pounds.

On the energy front, in recent days, the spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum Hamdi Abdel Aziz stated that it had remedied the problem and that the cessation of the supply of Aramco will have no effect in practice. All this, without specifying where Egypt will get the resources to cover its oil needs. In this regard, reports from trusted Egyptian environments speak of an agreement between Cairo and the Azerbaijani company Socar.

This gradual shift away from Cairo and Riyadh on the one hand, and between Egypt and Qatar and the United Arab Emirates on the other thus results in a rapprochement with Tehran and Moscow. On  November 7, Cairo  decided to reopen the Rafah border crossing with Gaza and not to send troops to Syria in support of the local government, while remaining faithful to the Egyptian tradition of nonintervention beyond national borders. However, support for Syria will materialize in the sending of military experts and advisors as Egypt already does with the Haftar army in Libya. (PB)

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