Saudi Policies Between Egypt and the Arab World

While Saudi Arabia was correct to support the military against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, its policy of supporting the Brotherhood in Syria is severely misguided.

al-monitor Egypt's Muslim pilgrims from the Suez governorate arrive at Mount Arafat near Mecca at the peak of the annual pilgrimage, Oct. 24, 2012.  Photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh.

Topics covered

saudi, interests, egypt, diplomacy

Aug 26, 2013

The message of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz — the “custodian of the two holy mosques” — to Egypt certainly reflects the reality of the situation. Saudi Arabia is deserving of thanks for its position, which seems 100% correct. This position was taken at a correct and critical time. It also came in response to a definite Egyptian need in the current circumstances, in which Egypt has come under a US and European attack on behalf of the most “progressive” of countries.

It is clear to everyone that the official authority of Egypt did not hesitate for a moment to deal with the Saudi king’s message as a welcome position, both in terms of content and timing. The importance of the Saudi message transcends the effect it might have on Egypt, or the United States and its allies. The effect may extend to different global powers that are still trying to comprehend what is happening inside and around Egypt.

Saudi Arabia's position vis-a-vis the Egyptian crisis is a sound one. But would this description remain true if we place the king’s message to the Egyptian state a few days ago within the framework of Saudi Arabia’s Arab and foreign policy in general? Wouldn’t we find interpretations inconsistent with the Saudi position accurately compared to other Saudi positions on Arab issues and policies?

The Saudi position in support of Egypt is a proper one. But can we stop at this point? Can we applaud Saudi Arabia’s other positions and policies toward the Arab region? We can certainly say that the new position toward Egypt is correct, but it aims to achieve a goal that cannot be considered a correct one. How?

If Saudi Arabia, through its new position toward Egypt, aims to strengthen Egypt in the face of its internal enemy represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, then it has succeeded in achieving this goal. In the current circumstances, no one can downplay the importance of this goal. But what about US-Saudi relations? We know very well that Washington — both government and the media — have stood beside the Muslim Brotherhood and overlooked their criminal acts. We also know that Washington, Britain and a number of European countries standing behind Washington, unobjectively directed sharp criticism at the Egyptian army regarding the latter’s response to the Muslim Brotherhood's actions since the overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi until now.

We must question the way with which Riyadh dealt with Washington and its subordinates when it decided to take the recent position on events in Egypt. We must question whether Riyadh has coordinated with Washington regarding the position on the events in Egypt, or ignored the latter, which found itself before an unexpected surprise. If [Saudi Arabia] had coordinated its position with Washington, this prompts another question about whether this foretells an imminent change in the US position toward the Saudi one. This is an improbable possibility, given the nature of US-Saudi relations

Otherwise, we must wonder whether the Saudi position would have an impact on [countries] under the influence of Saudi money and Saudi military support. We know, as others, that this position is detrimental to the Muslim Brotherhood, not only in Egypt but in every country in which the Brotherhood has armed and unarmed groups, as is the case in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and Chechnya ...

But we do not know the exact order of Saudi priorities in the countries where Saudi Arabia supports the Muslim Brotherhood role. Saudi Arabia supports the Muslim Brotherhood and its armed activity in Afghanistan, and it also plays a very serious role in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies (we do not mean the Americans) in Syria. This role — or rather the two roles — has continued in Syria since March 2011.

It is not possible to accept the contradiction between the role being played by Saudi Arabia — through money and weapons — along with the United States in Syria, and the new role which the kingdom clearly seeks to play in Egypt against the same source of threat supported by Saudi Arabia, the United States and Europe. This seems to be consistent with the general US-Western plan being implemented in the Arab region.

Egypt will not remain shielded from the impact of this plan. Could it be that Saudi Arabia bought Egypt’s support for the policies of the kingdom — and Washington — with this financial and political support for Egypt’s internal policies against the "Brotherhood"?

In response to this question, it should be noted that Saudi Arabia has appeared in recent months, in particular, in desperate need of support for its policies against Syria.

There is no doubt that the shift in the Egyptian position toward supporting the ruling regime in Syria was a logical and expected step, after the developments that led to the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, and which are currently overthrowing the entire Muslim Brotherhood organization in the country.

It would not be logical to rule out the possibility that Saudi Arabia has been trying — as there is no guarantee that it will succeed — to push the ruling authority in Egypt in the other direction, meaning toward an official Egyptian support for the Saudi policy on Syria, i.e., backing the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies. This is the same policy that the US has adopted against Syria.

We believe that if Saudi Arabia could play out the same scenario in Egypt, as it is doing in Syria, it would have done it in a heartbeat. Saudi Arabia is well aware of the extent of the impact of Egypt on the events in Syria. Thus, it is inconceivable that the kingdom would hesitate for a moment to seize this looming golden opportunity to drag Egypt into the US anti-Syria camp, whose work is primarily carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies.

For those who believe that these arguments are in favor of the Syrian regime, we stress that what we are saying is not in defense of the Syrian regime. It is in defense of the right of the Syrian people alone to change their ruling regime — if they so desire — and not by having foreign armed groups of all stripes receiving endless funding and aid from the US and oil-rich Gulf countries.

Did we digress from our original topic, which is Saudi support for Egypt’s current stance on the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to carry out acts of sabotage inside Egypt, with the help of their allies abroad, just like what happened in Syria at the very beginning [of the revolution]?

The two positions in both Egypt and Syria are the same. Yet, the difference — to the extent of contradiction — lies between Saudi Arabia’s positions on Egypt, on the one hand, and on Syria, on the other. This needs to be explained, if not justified. Syria is not the only source of danger fueled by Saudi policy, and there is no room for further explanation. Egypt is not for sale under whatever circumstances, whether internally or externally.

The time will come for Saudi Arabia to realize this reality, as it has done many times before. Yet until this time comes, Egypt will undoubtedly have to confirm the independence of its decisions. It has to make concerted efforts to clarify the Saudi position as it appears to be now, preventing it from taking advantage of Egypt’s need for financial or moral support to direct its Arab policy, in particular, toward the same goals of the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution. For this reason, the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown in Egypt, which portends that its rule will be overthrown outside Egypt as well — across the Arab world first.

Egypt, with which we share a lot in common, is capable — with its status and potential — of rearranging its domestic affairs and regional conditions to be in line with the inclinations of its military and civil leaders, as they appear to be in their recent rhetoric.

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More from  Samir Karam

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