Saudi Arabia’s relations with Egypt under Sisi After the 2011 Egyptian revolution, relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia greatly deteriorated. However, since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s assumption of office in Egypt during 2014, their relationship has been steadily improving. But why the sudden improvement in relations, and what are both states doing in order to remain allies?
Saudi Arabia’s relations with Egypt under Sisi
After the 2011 Egyptian revolution, relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia greatly deteriorated. However, since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s assumption of office in Egypt during 2014, their relationship has been steadily improving. But why the sudden improvement in relations, and what are both states doing in order to remain allies?
When the revolt against Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, broke out towards the end of January, it was expected that the Muslim Brotherhood would gain control of Egypt. Saudi Arabia is a tribal country, where religion makes the tribal cohesion stronger through laws, rules and tradition, while the Muslim Brotherhood believe that religion should take the place of tribal-family loyalties – which should disappear from politics entirely. As such, Saudi Arabia expressed concern over the Brotherhood gaining control in Egypt, and influence in the Middle Eastern region.
When Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi, was voted to become Egypt’s first democratically elected president in 2012, relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia steadily declined. Saudi Arabia felt uneasy about the Muslim Brotherhood’s version of Islamism, its organizational capacity, and its increasingly accepted message, which combined Islam with an eagerness to engage with the democratic process.
On 3 July 2013, when Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led a coalition to remove Morsi from power, the Saudi regime was quick to congratulate the newly appointed interim president, Adly Mansour. El-Sisi soon assumed office in June 2014, and has since been granted billions of dollars in support from Saudi Arabia – which has improved relations between the two countries significantly.
Increase in cooperation
Not only have political relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia increased since the beginning of el-Sisi’s presidency, but so have their military relations. Following the United State’s retreat from its historically intense role in the Middle East, Egypt and Saudi Arabia found themselves for the first time in years having to form policies without US input. Some of the issues they have been forced to deal with together were the possible implications of the Iran nuclear deal, the on-going crises in Syria and Yemen, and the growing threat from the Islamic State.
At the beginning of 2015, Cairo and Riyadh announced that they were seeking to establish joint military forces, with Saudi Arabia providing most of the funding and Egypt providing most of the fighters. Then, in August, they signed the “Cairo Declaration”, which encompassed a range of areas of cooperation over common regional challenges.
Towards the end of 2015, the two sides held a number of high-level talks, including the meetings of their foreign ministers on October 25 in Cairo and the meeting of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Saudi King Salman on November 11 in Riyadh, during which they approved the establishment of a coordination council to implement the “Cairo Declaration”.
As a result of increased cooperation between the two states, a strong alliance was built, and Saudi authorities invested into Egypt’s military re-equipment and urgent economic projects. As a result, Egypt has gained access to some of Saudi Arabia’s resources to strengthen its position in the region and solve the economic problems affecting the country.
By the end of 2015, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were strongly allied states, but still, undeniably, had some major strategic differences. Both states had different approaches to a few of the regions biggest issues, which was clearly seen in their approach to the Syrian conflict. While Saudi Arabia is a key backer of rebels battling to overthrow Assad’s government, Egypt believes that Assad should be part of a negotiated settlement.
Despite issues, at the beginning of April 2016, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman went on a five-day visit to Cairo in order to call for a joint fight against terrorism in the Middle East, which not only displayed their strong alliance, but also showed Saudi Arabia’s continuing support for President el-Sisi.
The two leaders signed some multi-billion-dollar investment deals, and Egypt agreed to demarcate its maritime borders with Saudi Arabia by officially placing two islands in the Straits of Tiran in Saudi territory. In an address to the Egyptian Parliament, King Salman said “The other mission that we should work on together is the fight against extremism and the fight against terrorism”. The statement was broadcast live on state television.
Salman also announced plans to build a bridge over the Red Sea to Egypt, and inked several other agreements that Egypt hopes will boost its economy. Salman’s visit followed months of reports in Saudi and Egyptian newspapers of strained ties. However, since the visit, Egypt has announced it would back Saudi Arabia with ground troops in conflict zones if needed, while Saudi Arabia has attempted to keep Egypt as a close ally through the use of a number of economic, political and military agreements.