Rise of Muslim Brotherhood frays Saudi-Egypt ties (REUTERS) By Angus McDowall LONDON, ENGLAND 05/01/12 11:43am EDT)
Reuters News Service
Reuters News Service Articles-Index-Top
(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia frets that Egypt, its strongest Arab ally
and a major recipient of Saudi funding, is falling under what it sees
as the baleful influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Riyadh recalled its ambassador from Cairo at the weekend in a spat
that underlines the misgivings of the robed princes who rule the
world´s top oil exporter and who have watched Egypt´s revolution and
its often chaotic aftermath with alarm.
They fear that political uncertainty in Egypt, which votes in a
presidential election this month, may undermine a decades-old
strategic bond between the two pro-U.S. Arab allies, a bond already
shaken when Egyptians toppled their ruler last year.
"The Saudis viewed the ouster of (President) Hosni Mubarak as a very
negative development," said Robert Jordan, the U.S. ambassador in
Riyadh from 2001-03.
"They´re concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood and the uncertainty
of the leadership. And they´re very sensitive at any hint that that
movement could spread to Saudi or other Gulf countries."
Riyadh´s recall for consultations of Ambassador Ahmed Kattan after
protests outside the Saudi embassy against the arrest of an Egyptian
lawyer in the kingdom may prove fleeting.
Egypt seems keen to have Kattan back, judging by government
statements and reports in state-owned newspapers of Egyptians waving
Saudi flags at the embassy calling for his return.
It was street protests outside the Saudi embassy last week that
caused umbrage in Riyadh. Crowds were protesting at the arrest of
Egyptian lawyer Ahmed El-Gezawi by Saudi authorities.
Egyptian activists said he had been detained for speaking out against
ill-treatment of Egyptians in the kingdom. The Saudi authorities said
he had been smuggling drugs.
Even if the diplomatic quarrel is smoothed over, it reflects the new
fragility of a once-solid alliance between the most populous Arab
nation and the richest.
Saudi Arabia last month agreed to grant Cairo $2.7 billion in aid -
and has given no public sign so far of reconsidering this pledge -
but it fears Egypt´s political evolution will amplify the
Brotherhood´s regional clout while diminishing Saudi influence, said
an Egyptian official who asked not to be named.
The Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia share Sunni Muslim values, but
Riyadh regards the movement as an ideological competitor with an
aggressively activist political doctrine that might destabilize
allies and foment discord inside the kingdom.
"Withdrawing the ambassador was a way of reminding Egyptians that
Saudi security concerns have to be respected," said Shadi Hamid,
director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.
"The Brotherhood hasn´t really gone out of its way to reassure Saudi
Arabia about regional security interests."
A Saudi government spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
Permeating Saudi worries about the Muslim Brotherhood are decades of
"The Brothers offer a religious political discourse that´s in
competition with the Wahhabi one. It´s something of a threat to the
government because it enjoys a certain legitimacy by virtue of its
religiosity," said Thomas Hegghammer, author of Jihad in Saudi Arabia.
Since the 18th century, the ruling Al Saud family have enjoyed a
close alliance with clerics of the ultra-conservative Wahhabi school
In the modern kingdom, the royal family has bankrolled the clergy and
given them wide-ranging influence over government policy. In return,
the clerics have espoused a political philosophy that demands
obedience to the ruler, a notion that shaped Saudi dismay at last
year´s Arab revolts.
By contrast the Muslim Brotherhood has always promoted an active
political role for Islam, first as a revolutionary organization and
more lately as a force in democratic politics.
Some Saudi leaders have accused the Brotherhood of inspiring the
kingdom´s main domestic opposition group, the Sahwa movement that in
the 1990s agitated to bring democracy to Saudi Arabia.
"The Saudis are pragmatic enough to realize when things change. Now
the Muslim Brotherhood are in power in Egypt. They have to re-
evaluate the relationship," said Khalid al-Dakhil, a political
sociology professor in Riyadh.
Mahmoud Ghozlan, the Brotherhood´s spokesman, said the movement had
had no contacts with Saudi Arabia over the recent dispute, which he
described as "a summer cloud".
Under Mubarak, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were both staunch opponents of
what they saw as Shi´ite Iran´s efforts to expand its influence and
destabilize the region.
They perceived Tehran´s hand behind the Shi´ite Hezbollah movement´s
increasing power in Lebanon, Hamas´s military take-over of the Gaza
Strip and sectarian violence in Iraq.
Any new Brotherhood-led government in Egypt might prove less pro-
Saudi, while maintaining a distance from Iran.
The question is whether the strategic, security and financial
imperatives of Egypt and Saudi Arabia will force them to swallow
their qualms about working with each other.
"If Egypt can´t sustain its financial system there could be a power
vacuum and the sort of situation that al Qaeda might exploit. The
Saudis have an interest in maintaining the viability of Egypt´s
economy," said Jordan.
For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood knows Egypt has no credible
donors that could substitute for Saudi Arabia, said Daniel Kurtzer,
U.S. ambassador to Egypt from 1997-2001.
"I don´t think the leadership of any of the Egyptian factions - the
military, civil society, the Islamists - would want to change things.
The problem is where the street takes Egyptian policy," he said.
Jamal Khashoggi, an influential Saudi commentator and former
newspaper editor, said Riyadh was watching Egypt´s transition.
"It´s waiting for Egypt to settle and for a leadership to emerge
before we start rebuilding the strategic alliance we have with them,"
(Reporting By Angus McDowall in London, Sherine El Madany in Cairo
and Amena Bakr in Dubai; Editing by Alistair Lyon) (© Thomson Reuters
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY