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Saudi-Egypt tension rises

February 2, 2023 at 4:05 pm

Mohammed Bin Salman, Prime Minister and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia [Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency]

Speculation is growing about a crisis between Saudi Arabia and Egypt manifested in relations between senior figures in both countries. Tension has come to the surface during the serious economic crisis in Egypt since Russia invaded Ukraine almost a year ago.

According to the Central Bank of Egypt in 2019, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have provided the Egyptian regime with more than $90 billion since the army seized power in the summer of 2013. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has boasted repeatedly about the Gulf’s “generous assistance” to his regime and the impact of aid on Egypt, “which would have collapsed without it.”

In early January, though, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) called on the Gulf countries to fulfil their “investment pledges” to Egypt on time so that it can cover its external debts in the coming years. Officials in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have remained silent about the IMF statement, which came as a shock to Egypt. Unofficial sources were not so reticent.

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The secretary of the Kuwaiti National Assembly, Osama Al-Shaheen, for example, demanded that his government should not comply with the IMF’s demands to finance Egypt. “Kuwait,” he insisted, “is more deserving of its own money.”

In Saudi Arabia, two writers known for their close ties to the royal court, Turki Al-Hamad and Khaled Al-Dakhil, also responded to the IMF demand. Al-Hamad is known locally as the media spokesperson for the Saudi ruling family. He expressed Saudi objections to the army’s domination of the Egyptian economy.

In a series of tweets, the Saudi academic pointed out that in Egypt, “All projects now pass through institutions controlled by the armed forces, and benefit influential people within them, at the expense of the private sector and civil society institutions.” He added that the aging Egyptian bureaucracy is resistant to change and acts as a stumbling block for successful economic investment, whether internal or external, despite the fact that Egypt is a treasure of investment opportunities.

Moreover, said Al-Hamad, there is a submissive popular culture in Egypt where everyone waits for everything to come from the top with an almost complete absence of independent community initiative.

Saudi academic and writer Khaled Al-Dakhil also criticised the Egyptian army’s dominance of the economy “since 1952”.

Recent social media posts, which New Gulf could not confirm, claimed that Cairo was surprised by Riyadh’s demand to pay old debts owed by Egypt to Saudi Aramco oil company related to oil shipments about five years ago. The Sisi regime had believe the oil to be a non-repayable grant.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were absent from the summit hosted by the UAE on 19 January, during which Sisi met the Emir of Qatar, the King of Bahrain, the Sultan of Oman and the King of Jordan to discuss possible economic aid to his country. Hours earlier, the Saudi Minister of Finance, Mohammed Al-Jadaan, told the Davos economic forum that his country refuses to pay more aid or financial grants to its “allies” without those countries carrying out economic reforms.

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