Cairo and Riyadh: The stage of strategic embrace

Ahmed Eleiba , Saturday 5 Dec 2020

Cairo and Riyadh activated a previous agreement concerning a mechanism for consultation regarding issues of common interest which was concluded in 2007

Sisi, king salman

Cairo and Riyadh activated a previous agreement concerning a mechanism for consultation regarding issues of common interest which was previously concluded in 2007.

This mechanism held its first meeting in Riyadh on the 1 December in the presence of both countries’ foreign ministers, where it was agreed upon ten main points regarding strategic issues between Cairo and Riyadh. 

This included asserting the strength of mutual relations and the importance of activating the consultative mechanism by having a headquarters in Cairo; ensuring freedom of navigation in Bab El-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea; ensuring the Palestinian cause is the central issue for Arabs; rejecting foreign interference; especially non-Arab interference in the region while asserting that the Arab Peace Initiative is the agreed-upon mechanism for establishing peace and stressing the Arab League’s important role in solving crises in the region. 

In addition to, the Saudi side supporting Egyptian efforts to preserve its water security regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) since it is part of the Arab water security. 

On the other hand, Cairo expressed its total support for Saudi Arabia in protecting its national security in an allusion to the Yemeni issue, the Libyan issue, boosting economic cooperation and cooperating in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and its impact. 

This context reflects an important step in developing institutional relations between Cairo and Riyadh which culminated in building a consultative mechanism based in Cairo. 

In spite of the Cairo-Riyadh partnership in several issues, such as Cairo’s role as a participant in the Arab Alliance to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, its membership in the Red Sea Forum founded by Saudi Arabia two years ago in addition to the mutual links in both the Arab League and the Islamic Conference Organization (OIC). 

It does however seem like the main motivation for developing a mechanism - that has been agreed upon thirteen years ago - is the increase in the level of danger and threats in the region and reactions towards several issues that brings together Cairo and Riyadh as a joint leadership of a regional axis. 

This is referring to the Arab axis confronting several regional agendas of a number of parties, some of which constitutes a threat to the entire Arab national security. 

The meeting’s focus on the Red Sea navigation comes within the context of the Iranian-backed Houthi threat that has been increasing in the Red Sea recently. 

These threats are no longer restricted to terrorist operations launched by Houthi militia against the navigation of countries in the Arab Alliance to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen such as Saudi Arabia and Emirates but it transcended them to terrorist operations aiming at navigation in this waterway as a whole, on which Egypt and Saudi Arabia have the longest maritime borders. 

Houthi militia attacked a Greek oil tanker last week at the southern entrance of the Red Sea, as has been announced by the Arab Alliance, through an explosives-laden boat attempted to collide with the vessel. 

Arab Alliance has also announced clearing about 146 naval mines at Bab El-Mandab, which constitutes a threat to navigation. 

According to observers, these developments coincided with the appearance of Iranian Revolutionary Guards publicly in Sanaa after appointing a leader in Al-Quds Brigade under diplomatic cover as an ambassador. 

In the light of the Egyptian-Saudi meeting outputs, there is a rejection of those threats. It is envisaged that this context will be reflected procedurally later in joint security arrangements, that may include increasing the role of Cairo in the Arab Alliance in confronting threats in the Red Sea through the naval leadership of the Alliance in Jeddah. 

In addition to raising the level of joint security coordination in the form of naval exercises as those happened previously.

This will include engaging other coastal powers in the Red Sea - such as Sudan - with which Egypt has held joint air exercises two weeks ago as well as Eretria and Djibouti which play pivotal roles in the Horn of Africa’s security where they have a line of contact with Bab El-Mandab.

The second main issue is also about the joint security side and concerns Egypt directly. It is the water security, where negotiations with Ethiopia stumbled while Egypt preserves its historical rights in the Nile. Ethiopia tries to impose a unilateral fait accompli. 

Saudi Arabia supports these Egyptian rights while it is known that it has economic investments in Ethiopia and hence it has strategic relations with Addis Ababa. 

Thus, when the Saudi side supports the Egyptian water rights this implies that Riyadh backs Cairo’s standpoint and it can attempt to exert pressure on Ethiopia to pursue fair negotiations achieving common interests of both Egypt and Ethiopia. 

For at the end of the day, Egypt doesn’t refuse Ethiopia’s right to build the dam but seeks to avert its effects on Egypt’s water quota. 

The third issue is the Palestinian Cause. It is noticeable that the meeting coincided with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ ‘Abu-Mazen’ visit to Cairo in an effort to resume Palestinian negotiations with Israel especially with Biden’s administration arrival to the White House. 

It has also coincided with leaks on a Saudi-Israeli meeting according to Israeli media reports. It seems that Riyadh isn’t in a hurry to have a seat in the normalisation train and is unwavering on its stance towards the Palestinian cause, especially that Riyadh is the country which proposed the Arab Peace Initiative. 

Consequently, affirming these rights in the first meeting of the committee reiterates Egyptian-Saudi common constants on one hand, and on the other hand it seems that there is an axis forming right now developing a proactive vision about resuming negotiations with the Biden administration after the stalemate and probably the crisis which characterised the American-Palestinian relations and the Israeli-Palestinian relations during Donald Trump’s administration in the light of the Peace Plan, dubbed “the deal of the century”, which the Palestinian Authority rejected. 

There were issues concerning neighbouring countries for both parties. For Saudi Arabia suffers from interferences in the Yemeni affairs and the Iranian support the Houthi receive and its permanent repercussions on Saudi security. 

As for Cairo, the situation in Libya doesn’t differ much where Turkey subverts the Libyan political path for resolving the crisis and continues arming Libyan militias in breach of the Geneva agreement and decisions of the cease fire agreement signed in a meeting of the Libyan powers in Montreux last September. 

Thus, coordination between both parties resulted in rejecting those interferences and subsequently coordinating with the UN and international powers concerned about the Libyan crisis to confront such interferences and push the currently stumbled path of resolution in the frame of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Tunisia. 

There are also some cooperative issues in the economic sphere and experience exchange on the coronavirus pandemic. 

Despite the fact that the Egyptian-Saudi relations are well-established and historical, it is evident that it is entering the stage of strategic embrace - in the political sense - for the purpose of setting-up a political mechanism for joint movement in a way that strengthens both parties against common dangers and threats.   

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