After a year of tensions between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud met in Riyadh on Sunday with the two of them confirming their good relations.
During the meeting, the Saudi king asserted the strength of the historical relations between the two countries and their people, pointing out to his country’s keenness to enhance consultation and coordination with Egypt in order to achieve the interests of the Arab and Islamic nations.
He furthermore stressed Saudi Arabia’s support of Egypt, especially in its war against terrorism.
Meanwhile, Al-Sisi affirmed the strategic relations between the two countries, pointing out his desire to strengthen bilateral ties in various fields and to contribute to enhancing joint Arab action in facing the various challenges currently threatening the Arab region.
The two sides agreed on the need to develop their cooperation in various fields and to invest their available resources in options that would best serve their mutual interests. They also reviewed regional issues and ways of finding possible solutions to regional crises, along with discussing counter-terrorism measures.
Following the discussion, Al-Sisi invited the Saudi king to visit Egypt with the latter confirming that a visit to Cairo will take place soon.
The return of good relations between Egypt and Saudi after a year of tensions is expected to be the main focus of the meeting of Egyptian and Saudi leaders. The meeting was agreed upon during the leaders’ meeting on the sidelines of the Arab Summit in Jordan last March.
The first meeting between both leaders took place in April last year, where 24 agreements were signed. Among these agreements was the Egyptian-Saudi maritime demarcation, which was later considered the main issue that ignited tensions between the two countries.
The agreement, which sought transferring sovereignty over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, sparked protests across the country and led a group of opposition lawyers to send the agreement to the Administrative Court, which has since ruled twice on the Egyptian sovereignty over the Islands.
Following the controversy in Egypt over the islands’ sovereignty, the Saudi government took a number of actions against Egypt, which confirmed the existence of tensions and led to an escalation of the conflict.
Experts’ views on the visit
Politicians believe the most important thing about the Egyptian-Saudi summit is improving the relation between both countries. Daily News Egypt spoke to a number of politicians who clarified the visit’s significance on several levels, suggesting ways on how Egypt can deal with the islands agreement issue while simultaneously avoiding another rise of tensions.
Tarek El-Khouly, a member in the parliament’s Committee of Foreign Affairs, commented to Daily News Egypt on the significance of the visit, saying that it aimed to save the strategic relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which was affected for a year due to both sides having conflicting views on a number of regional topics, as well as the controversy over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir.
In this regard, El-Khouly suggested that both countries should find a solution to sort out their differences on certain issues, all of which should not affect their bilateral relations. Additionally, both sides have to attempt as much as they can to unify their stance over regional issue, due to their strategic importance for the region as a whole.
Political analyst Abdel Moneim Saeed asserted that the visit is definitely significant for improving the relations, which have suffered a year of “coldness”, leading to the suspension of around 24 agreements signed between the leaders of both countries.
The visit has to look into three axes: resumption of those agreements, bilateral relations, and regional issues, Saeed stated.
As for regional discussions, Saeed said that, throughout the year of tension between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the region has witnessed a number of changes, which have subsequently affected Egypt’s stance in its regional agenda.
Furthermore, a new US administration, headed by Donald Trump, is now in charge, which is employing completely different policies in the region than the Obama administration. This is something that also has to be reviewed and considered during both sides’ discussions, the analyst continued.
“There is a wide issue to be reviewed between both leaders, which could never be concluded in one meeting; therefore, I recommend that there should be a joint institutional entity to continue working on the aforementioned axes.”
When asked if he meant a joint committee, Saeed said that there were already previous joint committees formed, none of which had implemented anything major.
How should Egypt address differences over the agreement with Saudi Arabia after the court rulings?
Politicians’ views on solving the agreement issue varied, as some recommended postponing it until reaching a satisfying solution or even cancellation, while others suggested searching for compromises.
Political science professor Hassan Nafaa said “there is unconfirmed news that Al-Sisi would pass the agreement. I wish this is not true. This is something not in Egypt’s diplomatic favour and not even beneficial for Egypt’s image.”
As for the perspective of reaching a compromise with Saudi Arabia, El-Khouly commented that the Islands agreement should not be the focal point for both countries, as the Saudi Shura council approved the agreement, contradicting with Egypt’s court rulings that annulled the agreement. His statements implied that each side has a different stance towards the agreement and both should respect the other side’s point of view in order to reach an agreement about the issue.
Additionally, Saeed believes that there are multiple issues to be discussed instead of the islands issue and that Egypt can urge Saudi Arabia to disregard the agreement and focus on the bridge scheduled to be constructed in the vicinity of the islands with some experts suggesting to place both countries’ flags there as it will be something shared between them.
Other saw that the agreement should not be part of discussions. Member of parliament (MP) Samir Ghattas said that he rejects any bargaining on the islands in exchange of good relations, which will violate Egypt’s judicial independence and its constitution.
Beginning of tensions
After Egypt voted in favour of the Russian resolution at the UN Security Council regarding a peace proposal in Syria, Saudi envoy to the UN Amr Abdel Latif said that Egypt’s stance was “painful.”
Days after the voting, Saudi Aramco halted its oil supply to Egypt.
This stance was justified for by the Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum as it stated that the halt was only temporary for about a month and that the five-year agreement with the Saudi company was still in effect.
Moreover, the spokesperson of the Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum, Hamdy Abdel Aziz, said that the decision to halt the oil supply to Egypt was made because of a commercial issue, not a political one. Additionally, he was informed that this decision was taken before Egypt’s vote at the UN.
The agreement came back into effect following Al-Sisi meeting with the Saudi king in Jordan.
Also, further statements by the Saudi media and officials against Egypt raised the issue, which included statements made by the former secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Eyad Madany, who criticised Al-Sisi.