LONDON - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently completed visits to several Arab Gulf countries, part of efforts by the Egyptian leader to strengthen regional support at a time of perceived Egyptian-Gulf tensions.
Sisi had high-level meetings with leaders of four of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain — during a 15-day tour. The aim of the visits was to stress Egyptian bilateral ties with the Gulf states and the GCC in general.
Sisi and Gulf leaders focused on regional crises such as Syria, Libya and Yemen, as well as combating foreign interference in the region, namely from Iran.
The Egyptian president began his tour April 23 in Saudi Arabia. Egyptian state media said Sisi’s meeting with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud represented a new beginning in bilateral relations between the two countries.
Relations between Riyadh and Cairo had been strained over Sisi’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and the attempted transfer of Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, which remains tied up in the Egyptian court system. Despite both sides claiming that relations remained good, Riyadh halted oil shipments to Egypt — part of billions of dollars’ worth of aid pledged by the kingdom to Cairo — in October 2016 without citing any reason. Shipments resumed in April ahead of Sisi’s visit.
“It’s no secret that Egypt and Saudi Arabia have different visions regarding some affairs,” the general manager of the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya News channel, Turki Aldakhil, wrote in an opinion piece.
Aldakhil said differences of opinion do not necessarily mean division and that Saudi-Egyptian ties were solid overall.
“Having different points of view regarding an affair or two does not mean abandoning cooperation on 100 other issues that they agree on,” he said.
“The meeting was a reflection of the political will to build on ties,” Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said.
Sisi visited the United Arab Emirates on May 3-4, meeting with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. In addition to discussing bilateral ties, the two leaders pledged to increase inter-Arab coordination and consultation to address regional crises and foreign interference in the region.
“The current situation in this region requires inter-Arab cooperation and solidarity that can enable the Arab nation to safeguard the security and stability of Arab states and counter existing common challenges, the most important of which is the growing danger of terrorism, extremism and foreign interference,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
Sisi then headed to Kuwait where security remained a key theme. “The security of the Gulf states is the security of Egypt,” Sisi assured Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah.
He added that Egypt would not allow foreign countries to undermine the security of its “brother countries” in the Arabian Gulf, in what many observers deemed an implicit reference to tensions between GCC countries and Iran.
The Egyptian president visited Bahrain on May 8 where he once again pledged Egyptian support for a Gulf country. Sisi said Egypt would support Bahrain in confronting any “regional or foreign threats,” in what analysts said was another reference to Iranian regional interference.
The visit had a clear “political dimension” by drawing attention to Egypt’s role “in supporting the stability of the Arab Gulf region and preserving [Egypt’s] brotherly relations with the Gulf States,” Egyptian Ambassador to Bahrain Suha Ibrahim al-Far said.
Sisi’s Gulf tour came weeks before US President Donald Trump was to visit the region, where he will attend a US-Arab and Islamic summit in Riyadh. That meeting’s agenda includes discussions on security and the fight against terrorism, as well as Arab Gulf concerns about Iran.
It was not clear whether Sisi would attend the summit. Riyadh has not announced whether it had invited Sisi, even as other Arab and Islamic leaders said they had received invitations and would be attending.