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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Gulf ties to Egypt have a long history

Behind the political reasons for the Gulf to stand by Cairo, there are also more emotional ones
The UAE and Egypt relations go beyond economics and politics. EPA
The UAE and Egypt relations go beyond economics and politics. EPA

Egypt’s landmark investor conference ends today, with some remarkable pledges being made. In particular, as The National reported yesterday, four Gulf nations pledged an astonishing $12.5bn (Dh45.9bn) in aid and investment.

Such sums can seem overwhelming, but, in the context of Egypt, these numbers are needed. Egypt’s population of 90 million is by a long way the largest in the Arab world, with a majority of them under 30 years old. These young men and women will need jobs, stability and hope for the future, or the country could face a very rocky future.

And not just the country. Behind the vast numbers there are clear political calculations. Egypt is the pivotal Arab country, one that has an enormous effect on what happens in North Africa and across the Levant and the Gulf. It is vital politically and economically. But it is also vital religiously. Egypt’s Al Azhar University is the heart of moderate Sunni Islamic scholarship. Its role as a counterweight to the extremist misinterpretations of the faith espoused by ISIL and other militant groups is vital for peace in the region.

But there is also something else to Egypt, an emotion detectable in the words of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai: “Egypt is our second country. To stand by Egypt is to breathe life into the future of the Arab nation.”

Egypt has always been the spiritual heart of the Arab world. No country in the Middle East can claim the history, the culture and political influence of Egypt – and for many Arabs, until probably the 1980s, it was to Cairo that they looked for inspiration and even leadership.

Since the 1980s that has changed and it is noticeable that young Emiratis don’t share the same romantic notions of Egypt as their parents. Unsurprisingly, perhaps: Egypt in the past 30 years has become more corrupt, more crowded, less culturally relevant. While Egypt’s star has faded, that of Lebanon and the Gulf has brightened.

But what Sheikh Mohammed and other Gulf leaders recognise is that Egypt can once again become that relevant, leading nation. With the help of the Gulf and the endeavours of its own people, it will. For the wider region, it must.