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The new pharaohs - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The crisis between Egypt and Saudi Arabia – following the attack on the Saudi embassy in Cairo and the Saudi consulate in Suez – has revealed the depth of the gap in the two countries knowledge of each another.

Many things have been said about the implications of recalling the Saudi Arabian ambassador from Cairo and closing the Saudi embassy there, as well as the Saudi – Egyptian efforts to calm the situation, whether from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF], the Egyptian parliament, or the political forces that mobilized to extinguish the political fires.

Who benefits from this crisis? Does this crisis have any logical or political grounds, away from the language of emotion and the logic of “there are no problems between friends?”

Perhaps we will have another opportunity to discuss these issues in the future.

What is important here is to stop, if just for a moment, and consider the extent of our ignorance regarding our knowledge of one another, not to mention our lack of knowledge regarding each other’s cultures. This crisis has revealed the huge gap in the two countries knowledge of one another. Anybody who monitored what much of the Egyptian media said about this crisis – whether the satellite television channels or even some heroes of the new media – would notice the strange paradox in the relationship between the society in the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt; this is a complex, multi-layered and indeed ancient relationship. In fact some Egyptians are closer to Saudi Arabia and Saudi culture than they are to other Egyptians and their own country, whilst the same can also be said about some Saudis and their relationship with Egypt. This is something that exists even with regards to dialect and traditions, as well as on a cultural level at large.

What was particularly funny were the statements issued by some of those in Egypt who lauded the Pharonic civilization, particularly as most of them were Islamists! These figures described the people of the Arabian Peninsula as “Bedouins” and “tent-dwellers”, and this is rhetoric that is closer to the stereotypical images put forward by western cinema with regards to the view of Arabs in general! Therefore it is extremely ironic and laughable that we Arabs are utilizing this ignorant stereotype to describe one another, dividing ourselves utilizing empty classifications between the north and the south or Mediterranean Arabs and desert Arabs. This is precisely the kind of rhetoric that we heard and saw from certain parties within Egypt against the backdrop of this crisis.

This is laughable because the statistics regarding development, education and the economy do not provide any justification for the boasts of the proud [Egyptians]!

However if we wanted to be more realistic and credible in our rhetoric, then the intermixing between the people of the Hejaz, Nejd and the Arabian Peninsula – before the establishment of the modern state of Egypt by Mohamed Ali Pasha, or the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by King Abdul Aziz – with the people of Egypt, represents a comprehensive intermingling. For the people of the Hejaz undertook jihad against the Napoleon campaign in Egypt, whilst Khedive Abbas Pasha was a personal friend of Imam Faisal Bin Turki, grandfather of King Abdul Aziz. Whilst in the modern era, Egyptian Sheikh Abdul-Razzaq Afifi was one of the symbols of the official Saudi religious institution and a member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars. Sheikh Hafiz Wehba, the Egyptian reformist, was one of King Abdul Aziz’s most prominent advisers, whilst one of Egypt’s most famous politicians, Muhammad Mahmoud Pasha, was a member of a family that originated from the desert of the Arabian Peninsula.

There has been much talk about this issue, however the situation is intensifying and it is truly a crisis when issues that have nothing to do with the main issue are raised. We were aware of this tendency to glorify the Pharonic civilization by some Egyptian isolationist intellectuals in the past; however this was subject to the condemnation of Egypt’s Islamists and conservatives. However for those who claim to be Islamists to jump on this Pharonic bandwagon, and this including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party – if we read between the lines of their statement on this crisis – then this truly represents a catastrophe!

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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