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Has Saudi Arabia abandoned the Sisi regime?

January 31, 2023 at 12:30 pm

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (L) is welcomed by Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (R) at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on March 08, 2022 [Egyptian Presidency/Anadolu Agency]

In a big surprise, the Saudi writer, Turki Al-Hamad, who is close to the decision-making circles in his country, launched an attack on the Egyptian regime’s policy through a series of tweets he posted on his Twitter account, which were reported by Arab and international media.

The writer wondered about the current situation in Egypt – after comparing it to its past – posing questions about unemployment, economic crises and the dilemmas of society, a country that was rich and would give loans to country, but is not a prisoner of the International Monetary Fund. He said that country had “its neck tied to every aid from here or there, and it is the land of milk and honey.”

Then Al-Hamad began to explain the Egyptian situation, believing that the most prominent issue was “the Army’s escalating dominance over the state, especially the economy, so that nothing passes in the Egyptian state except through the Army, under the supervision of the Army, and through institutions subordinate to the Army, and in favour of influential people in the Army.” In an explicit attack on the Egyptian administration, the writer mentioned that the second issue is “the aging bureaucracy that is resistant to change, which stands as a stumbling block in the face of any successful economic investment, whether internal or external, despite the fact that Egypt is an inexhaustible treasure of investment opportunities”, according to Al-Hamad. These unprecedented statements by an academic supportive of his country’s regime, against a major ally such as the Egyptian regime and its Army, made a splash in many Arab and international newspapers and magazines, as I even first heard the news on CNN.

While this attack by the Saudi writer on Al-Sisi and the Egyptian Army was the most violent, it was preceded by another, about six months earlier, also launched by Al-Hamad against the Egyptian writer Imad Al-Din Adeeb, who wrote an article under the title “Egypt: Who compensates for the painful bill for the Russian-Ukrainian war?” Al-Hamad explained this article as being exploitation of the Gulf States, warning them of the infiltration of non-Arab Middle Eastern countries (meaning Turkiye and Iran) due to the absence of the Gulf role in supporting Egypt. Turki Al-Hamad responded to this article by saying, “This writer should have asked: Why isn’t his country (Egypt) able to solve its chronic crises on its own instead of becoming dependent on so and so?” Given the relationship between the writer, who is considered to have great journalistic value and weight in Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi Crown Prince, one cannot say that Turki Al-Hamad’s attack on the head of the regime and the Egyptian Army is just a slip of the tongue or an expression of an individual point of view, but rather they are statements and opinions that are circulated in Saudi leadership circles, indicating that it has abandoned its previous role in supporting Al-Sisi’s regime since the 2013 coup, after it was desperate to keep him in power. Saudi Arabia was the most prominent Gulf partner in pumping more than $40 billion to the coup leader between 2013-2015. This interpretation is strongly supported by the statement of the Saudi Minister of Finance, which he made during the World Economic Forum in Davos, which includes changing the Kingdom’s way of supporting the allies, and that its support will be conditional, as he said, “We used to give direct grants and deposits without strings attached and we are changing that.”

READ: Sisi is in danger and the Army is in the dock

The Egyptian regime is no longer a trump card in the hands of Saudi Arabia, nor in the hands of any of the Gulf states, because the Islamist threat that Al-Sisi had constantly used as a scarecrow to scare the Gulf no longer exists, after the success of the counter-revolutionary forces in thwarting the Arab Spring, and the consequent fall of the Islamist projects that rose with the Arab Spring revolutions. This was followed by the persecution and liquidation of the leaders and members of political Islam groups. Moreover, the head of the Egyptian regime did not live up to the Saudi aspirations to resolve the war in Yemen against the Houthis.

I am not saying that Saudi Arabia will completely withhold aid from the Egyptian regime, but it will be conditional aid, far from the open and unconditional support of the past. It, along with its Gulf neighbours, have been focusing for some time on buying Egyptian assets, including companies, agencies, factories and land, especially after the International Monetary Fund’s conditions regarding the loan extended to the Egyptian regime. The IMF announced that the Egyptian government pledged to continue liquidating the state’s assets for the benefit of international and regional partners (the Gulf) in exchange for an injection of about $14 billion.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state neighbours aspire to buy Egyptian assets, especially those of the Army. Although Al-Sisi has sold several assets to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, he is still facing great difficulties in persuading the Egyptian Armed Forces to sell private assets, as the Egyptian Army, which has come in control of economic life believes that these companies, agencies and assets belong to the Army alone, and are considered among the red lines that cannot be crossed.

In short, the Saudi and Gulf support, in general, for Al-Sisi’s regime will not be the same as before, due to the different need for it now compared to the past years, in which the Egyptian people paid a heavy price. This was in the form of a lack of freedom and the loss of their food security. “Allah’s Will always prevails, but most people do not know.”

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 29 January 2023

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