Translated by Sufyan Jan for Fort Russ
11th April, 2016
On the sidelines of King Salman bin Abdulaziz’s visit to Cairo, tumultuous news is brewing after a stint of public disagreements between Cairo and Riyadh on virtually every regional issue from Tehran to Yemen and Syria.
Will King Salman push Al-Sisi towards Istanbul?
Sources say that the Saudi King is seeking to normalize relations between Turkey and Egypt, after being severely damaged since the events of June 30th 2013, which led to Muslim Brotherhood president Muhammad Morsi being overthrown and jailed, culminating in Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi claiming the presidency.
According to sources, the Saudis understand the complications in the relations between Ankara and Cairo since the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. However, this could be a minor hurdle given that both countries are fiercely competing for influence in both Syria and Libya.
Riyadh had taken the side of Cairo in this cold war, but a number of regional changes have pushed them away from President Sisi because of his position on Bashar Assad, the war in Yemen, and lastly the newly founded Islamic alliance that Egypt shrugged off.
Morsi to be pardoned, but put under house arrest
The sources added that the Saudi King has been issued a promise that Morsi will be pardoned. Cairo, however, insisted he officially withdraw his claims for legitimacy, and not consider himself as the legitimate leader of the country, and although he will be pardoned, he will still be under house arrest. Furthermore, he will not be allowed to reorganize the Muslim Brotherhood since its dismantling by the security forces, which left the group without any of its leadership.
Optimism in some of the Egyptian circles was so high that they believed the King managed to convince Sisi to accompany him to Istanbul in order to attend the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) summit this week and to arrive at a historical rapprochement with President Erdogan. The summit will be held in Turkey between the 10th-15th of April, where Turkey will be heading the organization for the next few years.
King Abdullah bin AbdulAziz, in 2010, had accomplished a dramatic shift in policy when he accompanied Bashar Assad to Beirut after a war of words following the assassination of Lebanese president Rafic Al-Hariri the martyr.
In turn, Ankara is offering an olive branch to the Egyptian government when the spokesperson of the Turkish Foreign Ministry Tanju Bilgiç relayed that Egypt has the freedom to select whomever it wants to represent it at the summit.
It is still unknown whether these gestures will be enough to convince Ankara to mend its relations with Egypt, especially since Turkey had already stated its preconditions for rapprochement with Egypt, which are for Sisi to leave, to annul the outcomes of the June 30th 2013 revolution, and to subsequently reshuffle the Egypt's political scene.
Alliance of those in dire straits
A few weeks ago, all of these developments would have been closer to fiction, but a host of challenges forced Riyadh, Cairo, and Ankara to soften their positions. For Riyadh, Yemen has become a quagmire, with increased Iranian pressure on Saudi on numerous fronts, adding to that is the lowering of crude oil prices in the world market.
Cairo is also facing laborious problems with deteriorating standards of living, and the rise of the Dollar exchange rate. Adding to this is the security problems in Sinai, with a near collapse of its status in the Arab world after being excluded from Riyadh and the Ankara-Doha axis. They are now faced with serious accusations and pressure from the EU following the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni. Along with calls from several EU members to reduce diplomatic relations with Egypt, pressure is also coming from Washington as calls for Sisi to backdown heighten.
Two weeks ago, the New York Times published an op-ed calling upon Obama to rethink US' relationship with Egypt as an ally. The paper came as a public letter to the president from leading American Middle East experts, including two who served in the Obama administration. They urge him to put pressure on president Sisi to better the countries human rights record should Egypt want military and economic aid from the US. Egypt was relieved by Russia’s intervention in Syria, but the speed of the Russian withdrawal alarmed Cairo to the dangers of aligning with Moscow.
All is not well for Ankara either: since the ruling party’s re-election in 2014, though they won by a land slide in the latest elections, problems are growing inside and outside of Turkey’s border, whether it be Kurdish expansion on the southern border, the Syrian kurds establishing their self rule or the on-going war in Diyarbakır, and after the Iranian nuclear deal with the west, Ankara’s relations with Tehran collapsed. If that wasn’t enough, Erdogan’s visit to Washington was the final nail in the coffin; Erdogan’s ears were rung by allegations of human rights violations and restriction of press freedoms, where even president Obama had anticipated Erdogan’s visit and gave an interview with The Atlantic, where he described Erdogan as a mini dictator.
So it is an alliance of those in dire straits, both internally and regionally, and all have developed tense relations with Washington. The three capitals recognize that the solution is in forming a grand Islamic sunni alliance in the region, to send a message to Washington that says "we’re not pushovers," and that the relations that are being developed by Washington with Tehran will not compensate for the alliances that took the successive efforts of all American administrations since WWII to establish.
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