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Middle East

Morsi visit to Saudi signals continuity in relations

A handout picture on July 9, 2012, shows Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, center, head of the military council Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, left, and Egyptian armed forces Chief of Staff Sami Anan as they attend a graduation ceremony of military cadets, in the capital Cairo. AFP PHOTO/EGYPTIAN PRESIDENCY/HO

RIYADH: Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi travels to Saudi Arabia Wednesday in his first official visit abroad, signalling continuity in relations between the two Arab powerhouses, who are obliged to cooperate despite their differences, say analysts.

Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood, whose ties with the Gulf kingdom have historically been marked by mistrust, will head to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday in what signals "continuity in bilateral relations between the two states regardless of who is in power in Cairo," said Saudi analyst Jamal Khashoggi.

"The Saudi kingdom has no reservations about the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood," he added, despite the warming of ties between the Brotherhood and Iran, Saudi's arch rival, under Egypt's ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Tensions have long existed between the Gulf, where the strict Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam applies, and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, moderate Islamists who were thrust to power by the Arab Spring revolt that swept the country last year.

But the tensions are not preventing Egypt's new leadership from making pragmatic decisions, Khashoggi said.

"There are many signs that the Egyptians are prioritising their relations with the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, over their relations with Iran," he noted, adding that Iran was in need of "assistance and cannot offer anything" to Egypt right now.

"Egypt is now focusing on alliances with Turkey and Saudi," both Sunni Muslim countries with significant economic potential, said Khashoggi.

Anwar Eshki, president of the Saudi-based Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, said the Brotherhood's ties with Iran were "their own business ... But they shouldn't tolerate any interference by Iran in Egypt."

Egypt and Saudi Arabia enjoyed close relations under Mubarak, Morsi's predecessor, who was ousted by the popular uprising in February last year.

But a rare diplomatic crisis between the two regional powers in April saw Riyadh recall its ambassador in Cairo and close its embassy for several days, after protests demanding the release of a lawyer and rights activist detained in the kingdom.

Despite the turbulent relationship, the Muslim Brotherhood "recognise that the kingdom stood by them when they were on bad terms with (former Egyptian president Gamal) Abdel Nasser," he added.

In an interview with the Saudi daily Okaz on Tuesday, Morsi was unequivocal in his attitude towards Egypt's traditional ally.

"We in Egypt cannot forget that Saudi Arabia has always stood by the Arabs," he said, adding that "Gulf security is a red line" that must not be crossed.

"Stability in Egypt is important for Saudi Arabia," said analyst Abdel Aziz al-Sagr, head of the Gulf Research Centre, while noting that the oil-rich kingdom is the main source of economic aid for impoverished Egypt.

Saudi Arabia hosts some 1.65 million Egyptian expatriates and could "increase its investments in Egypt soon," Saudi's ambassador in Cairo, Ahmad Kattan said last week.

Riyadh has deposited $1 billion into the Egyptian Central Bank as a loan guarantee, and Cairo, which is battling a severe economic crisis, received a $1 billion pledge of assistance from the Saudi-based Islamic Development Bank earlier this month.

 

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