Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The dilemma of Egyptian-Saudi relations | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

Egyptian-Saudi relations are similar in stature to a giant skyscraper like the Empire State Building in New York, yet the difference is that the former is not currently propped up by reinforced concrete pillars, but rather by a single matchstick!

What is interesting about the relations between Cairo and Riyadh – particularly after the summer of 1972 when secret coordination began between late President Anwar al-Sadat and late King Faisal Bin Abdul-Aziz (may God rest their souls) to prepare for the October War in 1973 – is that relations were always immensely strong at the upper levels, but extremely fragile at the lower levels. This is to say that the further up the warmer the relations were, whilst further down they were more frosty and hostile.

In spite of the mutual interests between the two countries (Saudi Arabia is the largest investor in Egypt, whereas the Egyptians constitute the largest expatriate community in the Kingdom), the risk of a crisis is always looming.

Although there are half a million Saudis residing permanently in Cairo and nearly two million Egyptians working in the Kingdom, any minor incident in Cairo or Riyadh could jeopardize relations, a situation that makes leaders in Cairo and Riyadh continually perplexed.

During the era of former President Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian-Saudi relations were at their peak, whether during the reign of King Fahd Bin Abdul-Aziz (may God rest his soul) or King Abdullah. However, all these leaders became annoyed when individual acts impacted upon mutual relations.

For example, tensions would rise in Cairo or Riyadh whenever an Egyptian teacher in the Kingdom, or a Saudi investor in Cairo, encountered a problem, or a crime was committed here or an incident occurred there.

If the total population of the two countries exceeds 105 million, and there are regular exchanges of travel, residence, work, interests, marriages and history, not to mention the Umrah and Hajj pilgrimages and the fact that both nations share the use of seaports and airports, then it is logical that there will be some problems or individual crises.

It is natural that there are individual crises, but it is not natural for an individual crisis to transform into an issue that threatens the very pillars of the relations between the two countries.

I imagine that a joint ministerial committee for Egypt and Saudi Arabia may meet soon to discuss several urgent bilateral issues, and I also imagine that a permanent crises management subcommittee may be formed, incorporating the ambassadors of both countries and a number of experts and public figures, to undertake instant and prompt handling of any emerging crisis before it erupts.

The last thing we need now is a reduction in temperature in the relations between Cairo and Riyadh. What we urgently require today is a return of warm relations.