x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

GCC support shows region has a stake in Egypt's crisis

The support that followed the call by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah for Arabs to stand together over the crisis in Egypt underlines its potential ramifications extend far beyond the country's own borders. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

ABU DHABI // A call by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah for Arabs to stand together against "attempts to destabilise" Egypt shows that Riyadh and other Gulf governments view the crisis as not merely a domestic problem but a regional one.

King Abdullah's comments, broadcast on Saudi state television on Friday, were quickly followed by statements of support from the UAE and fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members Kuwait and Bahrain.

Each country recognised the Egyptian government's "legitimate right to defend the vital interests of its people and protect them", as Bahrain's statement put it.

Together, the statements send a clear message that GCC states are prepared to offer moral and financial support for the military-backed Egyptian government, even as its security measures have become increasingly controversial among Western donors and allies.

"This is the message for the friends of Saudi Arabia also, and the brothers of Saudi Arabia: to support the government in Egypt now, and give moral support for the government in Egypt," said Anwar Eshki, the chairman of the Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies, and an adviser to Saudi's cabinet of ministers.

A regional consensus supporting the government in Cairo could have a significant effect on the ground, emboldening the approach of the transitional government and possibly complicating European and American attempts to push for a political dialogue, analysts said.

The Saudi government, as well as some other GCC governments, view the Muslim Brotherhood as a dangerously subversive transnational force whose members are more loyal to the organisation than to their countries.

Within 24 hours of Egypt's Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, being removed from power, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait together offered US$12 billion (Dh46bn) in aid to the new government in Cairo, dwarfing $1.5bn in military aid from Washington - a traditional power broker.

"We in Saudi Arabia have been following the problems in Egypt from the beginning, and we found that many of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders, they threatened to harm Egypt if [the interim government] didn't return Morsi," said Mr Eshki. "They threaten the government and the people by destroying many things in Egypt."

But regionalising the crisis is not without risks. Already, public statements have betrayed simmering tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, a backer of the previous Islamist regime.

Although Doha had joined the regional consensus supporting the initial ousting of Mr Morsi, in recent days it has grown increasingly uncomfortable with the Gulf position, and called on Egypt's government to "refrain from the security option in dealing with peaceful protests" last week after security forces cleared two protest camps.

The GCC statements may also complicate efforts, already moribund, to bring a negotiated settlement to the crisis. Strongly backed by their Gulf allies, Egypt's military leaders may be less inclined to heed European and US calls for dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Gulf allies may instead welcome a proposal by the Egyptian prime minister yesterday - which is being studied by the cabinet - to disband the Brotherhood.