Strange Bedfellows: Egypt and the Saudis Should Join Forces

Article Summary
Saudi Arabia plans to give Egypt financial aid by the end of the month. No one really expected the two countries to form a healthy relationship, but then again, the Arab Spring has produced some unlikely scenarios. Abd-al-Halim Mahjoub outlines three scenarios for the Saudi-Egyptian relationship, and argues that cooperation is key.

There are three possible scenarios stemming from the unexpected Saudi-Egyptian relationship that formed after Egypt’s new government was established.

The "Clash" Scenario

This scenario comes from an Egyptian political speech that called for change by compelling religious groups to participate in the government. These groups claim to be the sole interpreters of religion and criticize others. This scenario also stems from the new cultural and political elite’s escalated campaign against some Arab regimes’ foreign relations, or against the way Egyptian laborers are treated amid demands to improve their situation, especially regarding the sponsorship system.

At the Saudi level, the most significant factors that would instigate a clash are the country's commitment to stifling change—a decision that comes from within Saudi Arabia itself—as well as the focus of both the media and political discourse on the Egyptian revolution’s failure to overcome crises, not to mention its support for Egypt’s role in successfully managing Arab issues. Furthermore, the Saudi elite are seeking to adopt particular trends and currents in Egypt, and are thus deepening divisions within the political and cultural community.

All of these reasons can lead to an early clash, which may prevent the new regime from getting settled and encouraging some much-needed stability. This would steer relations down unsafe roads, and may cause history to repeat itself.


This scenario would allow the two countries to function politically under a bilateral framework through which they would work together to avoid public clashes, address urgent issues and achieve their immediate interests. This is particularly important during the Egyptian government’s initial stages, when it is still testing the water on national issues. The longer this period lasts, the more the disadvantageous it will become, since the government may employ intelligence mechanisms or shady personalities to explore these issues. Foreign intervention may even be allowed to serve the interests of a third party.

Forming an Alliance and Seeking Broader Horizons

This scenario stems from several basic determinants:

1—Both countries share similar political and security needs, as they experience multiple sources of common threats and are expecting a resurgence in terrorism, which would exploit chaos and disorder at the regional and international levels.

2 —An Arab state cannot, regardless of its influence, manage major Arab issues alone—namely the Palestinian issue—or confront regional (Turkey and Iran) and international (the Greater Middle East) issues. Addressing these issues would ultimately limit the abilities of the Arab League, eliminate the Arab world as a regional political actor, and individually distract its members.

3—Tensions are expected to explode areas that are highly sensitive for both countries—such as Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, and the Gulf region—due to internal conflict, the failure of the “Arab Spring” for some, a security-political vacuum in others, and because of external powers seeking domination, such as Iranian activity in Iraq and the role of the West in Libya.

These factors make it necessary for the next Egyptian regime and the ruling elite in Saudi Arabia to choose this scenario—that is, the alliance approach—and to enhance coordination between them in all areas. Through this approach, they will be able to develop elements of internal stability. Also, an Arab coalition can be established—one that could address regional and international strategies in the Middle East equally, create an environment for material and human resources investments in both countries, and serve future Arab interests, particularly in the areas of science and technology (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Zewail City of Science and Technology).

Furthermore, if both countries agreed on this scenario, they would lessen the likelihood of future clashes between them and promote stability in turbulent countries like Yemen, Syria and Iraq. This would also open the door for establishing a regional security system in the Red Sea region, capable of supporting and defending both countries—and Arabs in general—against current and future threats. Such a system would make use of the hidden riches buried in Red Sea waters, and would provide a path for oil in the Gulf and the Bab al-Mandab strait.

The time of confrontation is long gone. Now is the time to ally and join hands in this troubled world.

Found in: oil, islamists, egyptian-saudi cooperation, egypt

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