Cairo and Riyadh stand-off – political displacement and the new axis of resistance

SHAFAQNA – When you thought the MENA region could not churn any more crises … This time two giants have come to lock horns over conflicting geopolitical ambitions, or rather, Saudi Arabia might have overstepped one boundary too many against Egypt.

With so many eyes locked on Aleppo, much of Cairo and Riyadh’s belligerent political foreplay has gone largely unnoticed, labelled by most as unimportant in comparison to the Syrian furore.

Without taking anything away from the breath-taking advances the Syrian Army accomplished against Daesh in Aleppo – a victory we know will change the course of the war forever, and firmly assert Syria as a grand pillar of Resistance against the insanity of covert western imperialism, Egypt’s growing ire towards the kingdom could lead to a tectonic political shift of such magnitude that it could spell the end of all Persian Gulf monarchies. And just like that the ghost of President Gamal Abdel Nasser is coming back to haunt Riyadh golden palaces.

Call it poetic justice if you must, but there is a certain irony to Saudi Arabia’s mounting arrogance since every move it has played towards expanding its gravitas in the region has in fact diminished its relevance … and bled those coffers dry.

Yes, undeniably the kingdom is still wealthy but like any other nation, its core power lies in its ability to coerce others to its will. And if insofar Riyadh has played its chequebook like a violin, Yemen’s war and mounting dissent within the ranks of its political and military coalition have taken much wind out of Saudi Arabia’s political sail.

As it turns out the Saudi lobby might have over-estimated its traction.

It all began in April 2016 … then, Egypt was still keen to assuage Riyadh’s concerns over its pollical choices in exchange for a healthy injection of cash into its stressed economy. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s infatuation with King Salman would be short lived though – especially since solely motivated by money as opposed to ideology.

Saudi Arabia’s core power is tied to its wealth, not its ability to inspire nations.

But back to Egypt.

In exchange for a series of lucrative contracts and promised diplomatic support Egypt agreed to transfer some of its territorial integrity to the kingdom by ceding control over two of its islands: Tiran and Sanafir. Located at the southern entry of the Gulf of Aqaba, where both Israel and Jordan maintain important ports, the islands are of great geopolitical importance, so much so in fact that Tel Aviv has long coveted them for itself.

Egyptians were not exactly pleased … In fact, news of the deal ignited an impassionate debate on the legality of such move since Egypt territorial integrity sits cornerstone to Egypt consititution.

Taking to social media to express outrage Hamdeen Sabahi, once a presidential hopeful (2014) denounced the planned handover, saying it went against the Egyptian constitution, which prohibits ceding any territory. As he called for a complete withdrawal of the agreement, Sabahi implied Riyadh was taken advantage of Egypt’s economic vulnerability to play empire-building.

Egypt was angry … so angry indeed that Sisi had to concede a parliamentary review. Saudi Arabia’s deal was dead in the water before it could take its first breathe.

This one upset has now metamorphosed into a full-blown spat as each party has risen its fists in defiance, each, keen to remind the other just how mighty they respectively can be if pushed too far against the wall.

And so the dance began!

The first real blow came when Egypt voted this October in favour of Russia’s draft proposal on Syria to the United Nations Security Council, thus directly positioning itself against Saudi Arabia and its ambition to see fall Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. In analysis for al-Monitor Khalid Hassan wrote: “The draft was unacceptable to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which seeks to depose the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and which viewed Egypt’s vote for the resolution as a deviation from the Arab position.”

Riyadh responded in kind this November when it froze all oil imports to Egypt. Reuters reported: “Saudi Arabia has informed Egypt that shipments of oil products expected under a $23 billion aid deal have been halted indefinitely, suggesting a deepening rift between the Arab world’s richest country and its most populous.”

You will note that Riyadh’s snub came as Egypt Oil Minister Tarek El Molla was rumoured to have scheduled a visit to Iran, as part of an economic and energy broadening effort.

Whether Egyptian officials will break bread with their Iranian counterparts in the near future or not is irrelevant! What matters are long-term political alignments, and if anything, the past few months have proven that Cairo and Riyadh sit on very different political tables altogether. As for Iran, experience has proven that for every misstep the kingdom has taken, Tehran’s traction has amplified tenfold. When one needs only to sit still to grow in strength, the impatient tend to miscalculate.

Although a reconciliation with Egypt is still possible, Saudi Arabia’s latest stunt in the Horn of Africa is likely to further anchor grievances, and awaken Egypt’s national anger.

Earlier this December news broke out that Saudi Arabia would open a military base in Djibouti. The Egyptians are not amused!

The New Arab quoted an official Egyptian source as saying: “Cairo is totally against the deal because it considers Djibouti to be under the Egyptian sphere of influence and because its location is important for national security … This move goes against the generally accepted customs between Arab countries as the area has a direct influence on the passage of ships towards the Suez Canal. If Saudi Arabia wants to ensure that Iran does not take control of the area, that is understandable – however, this must take place with Egyptian oversight and permission.”

But why is the Horn of Africa so crucial to Egypt’s national security? One word: water.

A dispute over access to water resources in the region would ignite an existential struggle which would explode the MENA and feed dangerous fires given Africa’s recent descent into radicalism. Nigeria comes to mind.

I will say this: the kingdom’s belligerence will only further strengthen those resistance movements which have emerged across the MENA, each in reaction to both imperialism and Wahhabism.

How long before those different movements merged into one to tumble al-Saud’s power house, and like dominoes those monarchies shall fall …

By Catherine Shakdam – Director of Programs for the Shafaqna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies

This article appeared first on RT International




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