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Egypt's Prime Minister Sharaf in Riyadh tomorrow

The tour of Gulf states by Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has again been rescheduled, opening tomorrow

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 24 Apr 2011
Essam Sharaf
Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Sharaf (Photo: Reuters)
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To avoid growing misunderstanding over Egypt's relations with the Arab Gulf states, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf is yet again rescheduling his Gulf tour.

Originally scheduled for today, the tour was put off to allow for the prime minister to attend to some pressing home concerns, including protests in several governorates, especially Qena, over local issues. Sharaf planned to visit some of the troubled governorates.

However, by yesterday evening, the plan was re-worked again, and the prime minister decided to leave for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. The latter would not have been included had Sharaf started his trip as originally scheduled, due to the programme of Emir Hamad Ben Khalifa.

The United Arab Emirates is "for sure" — according to an Egyptian diplomat — on hold at this time due to an incompatibility in schedules.

The plan by the prime minister to delay his Gulf tour, which had been announced a few weeks ago, caused wide speculations over Egypt's relations with Arab Gulf capitals. Some suggested that the delay was imposed by reluctant Gulf capitals to express dismay with the decision of Cairo to put ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his family on trial for charges of financial and political corruption. Others argued that the delay was designed to convey Arab Gulf discontent with Egyptian plans to move towards a full diplomatic normalisation of relations with Iran at a time of growing concern on the part of the Sunni ruled Arab Gulf states of the influence exercised by Iran on Shia populations in these countries.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Egyptian diplomat admitted that while there is some concern on the part of some Gulf capitals on both the Mubarak and the Iran matters, the concern does not amount to a handicap to Egyptian relations with Arab Gulf states. "We explained to them through diplomatic channels that we are not pursuing a strategic alliance with Iran but just normal diplomatic relations," said one Egyptian diplomat. He added that given that all Arab Gulf countries have diplomatic relations with Iran, including the United Arab Emirates, who is in dispute with Iran over three Gulf islands, "it is rather odd that anybody would expect Egypt not to have diplomatic relations".

The fate of the Mubaraks is meanwhile, according to Egyptian and Gulf diplomats, still being discussed with several Gulf capitals pressing Cairo to spare the toppled president from being tried or sent to jail if proven guilty of corruption and of ordering the killing of demonstrators during the January 25 Revolution.

"This is true, but at the end of the day these countries have no intention to turn their backs on Egypt over this matter," said another Egyptian diplomat. He predicted that the Sharaf tour would be marked by a considerable show of good intentions "financially" to support Egypt through the current phase of transition from the Mubarak regime to the post-revolution order.

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