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Opinion: Saudi-US dispute over Egypt | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A general view shows Egyptians supporting ousted president Morsi(depicted in poster) during Eid al-Fitr prayer at their continuing sit-in location, near Rabaa Adawiya mosque, Cairo, Egypt, 08 August 2013. (EPA/AHMED RADAMAN.)

The statement issued by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal last week was akin to a pebble thrown into the still waters of Washington’s foreign relations. After he succeeded in convincing the French to support the new situation in Egypt, he said the following: “The Arab States will never accept manipulation of their fates or tampering with their security and stability by the international community. I hope that the international community is aware of the contents of the message of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques that the Kingdom is serious and will not hesitate in supporting the Egyptian People to safeguard their security and stability.”

The Saudi foreign minister’s statements were implicitly directed at the US and the rest of the West, which attempted to support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to stand against the change that occurred following the June 30 protests. Repeating a similar implication in a subsequent statement, Prince Saud Al-Faisal emphasized that Egypt is considered the largest and most important Arab country and “the Kingdom does not accept determining Egypt’s fate based on false assessments.”

Senior US security expert Bruce Riedel shares Dennis Ross’s analysis that there is a US-Saudi dispute regarding how to deal with what is happening in the region today, including the situations in Bahrain and Egypt. They agree that regardless of this dispute, Saudi Arabia remains an important country for the US. In an op-ed published in The New York Times, Riedel reminds us that US president Barack Obama has never criticized Saudi Arabia, despite everything that’s going on, adding that “he understands the paradox that lies at the heart of our key partnership in the Islamic world.”

Riedel believes that the solution lies in following two courses, one that is mutually agreed upon—fighting terrorism and keeping pressure on Iran through sanctions—and another that is disputed, namely whether or not to support change in the Arab world. He is of the view that the US dispute with Saudi Arabia over the latter issue must continue. As for Dennis Ross, he believes that the dispute in relations between Saudi Arabia and the US has a positive side, stressing that Saudi Arabia’s influence and weight should be used to support positive change, not prevent it.

The dispute over Egypt is clear to see, particularly in Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal’s statement last week. He clarified that Saudi Arabia’s fate is intrinsically linked to its strategic relations with Egypt and that the Kingdom fears that foreign pressures—particularly from the Americans—could impose Muslim Brotherhood rule, despite the group’s transgressions against the Egyptian people.

The Americans believe that the Brotherhood will commit to a democratic approach and devolution of power. But what lies ahead for the region if the Brotherhood attempt to transform Egypt in the same manner that Khomeini altered Iran in 1979, when he seized unilateral power and subjected the Iranian people to greater tyranny than they witnessed under the Shah? What would happen to the region if the Brotherhood attempts to follow the same course as Hamas in 2006 when the Islamist group betrayed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and established its own state in Gaza? Gaza has turned into an Iranian canton currently being exploited by the Israelis as a justification against granting the Palestinians an independent state of their own.

This is the most important question: Does Saudi Arabia oppose a democratic system in Egypt?

The reality is that Saudi Arabia’s opinion doesn’t matter. What matters more is the Egyptian people’s opinion. Saudi Arabia, no matter how influential it is, cannot alter the course of events in Egypt. Most Egyptian groups have voiced their anger at the Brotherhood’s policy of pushing the Egyptian state towards autocracy and tyranny, monopolizing power and eliminating their political opponents. This was an approach that President Mohamed Mursi had initially vowed not to take.

Mursi was leading Egypt towards the Iranian model. If he had succeeded, all that the Americans could have said was: “Our calculations were wrong.” This would have been precisely like former president Jimmy Carter’s wrong calculations regarding Khomeinist Iran.

The United States, which is more than 5,000 miles away from Egypt, will be dealing with the Brotherhood’s regime from afar, whether it is following an approach of calm or confrontation. For Saudi, however, which is situated right next door to Egypt, its relations with the country are vital.

A Brotherhood fascist regime means that Saudi Arabia could become besieged by Iran from three sides. We hope that the Egyptians hold new free elections in less than a year. We hope that all political parties will participate in these elections. We hope that the Egyptian people can come to an agreement on a regime that expresses their vision for the future. It is far better for Saudi Arabia for Egypt to have a stable political regime, rather than an Egypt that is being pushed towards elimination, chaos, eventually becoming another failed state in the region. The next elections will represent the effective Egyptian response against the Brotherhood’s propaganda that it is the victim. The Brotherhood, despite embracing democracy, is still incapable of getting rid of its religious fascist doctrine.