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Sisi between Israeli approval and Saudi cash

February 16, 2016 at 3:11 pm

Anyone who believes that the news coverage of the indecent flirtation between Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Israel may anger the Egyptian leader is mistaken. On the contrary, such reports and leaks make the General smile and on the verge of dancing for joy.

We used to be surprised by the silence that hung over Egyptian diplomats every time that Israel exposed one of the secrets of its very special relationship with Al-Sisi. We used to wonder why an official refutation or denial of news damaging to Egypt’s national honour was not issued, despite such shameful statements as that made by Israeli Infrastructure Minister, who said that Al-Sisi’s government launched its water war on the Gaza Strip at Israel’s behest.

The reality of the situation suggests that Al-Sisi looks forward to such scandals — even wishes for them — and waits anxiously if they are delayed. This is because he knows that staying in power is dependent on Israel’s desires. As such, he is always looking at things from the perspective of Israeli public opinion, not the Egyptians’, and is preoccupied with making sure that his popularity is growing amongst the Zionist settlers, not his own citizens.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Cairo was silent in the face of what Israel’s Makor Rishon reported yesterday about Al-Sisi flattering and praising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Zvika Klein, a correspondent from the right-wing newspaper, the leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations told Netanyahu on Sunday that Al-Sisi had described the Israeli leader to them last Thursday in Cairo as someone “who possesses great powers, which assist him not only to lead his country, but can also advance the region and the entire world.”

We did not and will not hear Abdel Fattah’s ambassador tackling such news, nor will we hear any Egyptian journalist or correspondent asking for a denial of the claim. This is because the government in Egypt is well and truly in Israel‘s orbit and knows that it will only remain in power as long as it receives official and popular Israeli support.

In this context, who would have imagined that the chutzpah of the Israeli media would reach the point of Maariv asking Al-Sisi to open the doors wide to normalisation in a manner that seems close to declaring a bilateral alliance? The newspaper also called on the Egyptian president to work personally on organising a match between Al-Ahly Football Club and Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Could we ever have thought that all of this would occur without Egypt expressing its anger and disapproval at what looks like continuous humiliation at the hands of the Israelis?

This brings us directly to the surprise of some observers at the official Egyptian and Al-Sisi position on the possible Saudi military intervention in Syria against the Russia-Iran alliance. It apparently shocked the members of Saudi political circles who believed that the leader of the Egyptian coup, which Riyadh has funded generously, would not refuse a request from the Saudi government. This is especially true given that the now famous picture of Al-Sisi holding hands with the Deputy Crown Prince during an exhibition at the Military Academy in Cairo is still fresh in our memories; “You will always see us together,” said the General at the time.

Every day that passes proves that Al-Sisi’s keenness to get Israel’s approval is much stronger than his reliance on Saudi cash. Hence, his position on the Syrian issue is determined by Israel’s reading of the situation; as long as Tel Aviv does not want Bashar Al-Assad to leave office and wants to keep him humiliated, weak and broken, then Al-Sisi will not stray very far in the opposite direction, even towards the lure of Saudi money.

I believe that the situation is different to that surrounding the intervention in Yemen, as the Sisi manoeuvre in Operation Decisive Storm was based on expressing reservations and reluctance as a form of blackmail, in order for Saudi Arabia to continue to pump cash into Egypt; the flow had stopped with the death of King Abdullah. As for as Syria is concerned, the situation exposes the doctrine of a government in Cairo that may be able to alter its tactics in order to obtain cash, but is unwilling to give up its existential and strategic link to Israel.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 16 February, 2016.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.