Morsi invites military, Saudis into a deft diplomatic dance (THE GLOBE AND MAIL) PATRICK MARTIN 07/11/12)
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Egypt’s new President, the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi,
arrives in Saudi Arabia, Wednesday on his first international foray.
It is a symbolic visit intended to signal the restoration of the
grand regional alliance between Cairo and Riyadh and to reassure
Egypt’s military that the country’s Muslim Brothers will play by the
Indeed, Mr. Morsi, a former engineering professor and the
Brotherhood’s second choice as a presidential candidate, may be more
adept at politics than many give him credit for. His surprise decree
this week, calling parliament back into session and seemingly
ignoring the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ recent dismissal of
the legislature, stunned many observers, as it suggested a brazen
attack on the military’s authority.
But, accompanied by an equally surprising announcement that Mr. Morsi
would call on Saudi King Abdullah on Wednesday – a gesture that
appeals to Egypt’s military leadership – as well as a number of
public gestures showing Mr. Morsi as respectful of that leadership,
suggests a carefully choreographed diplomatic dance rather than a
frontal political assault.
The rookie President’s gambit of summoning parliament to meet
Tuesday, over the objections of the SCAF and a ruling by the
country’s constitutional court that as many as a third of the
parliamentarians were elected improperly, went off painlessly.
The MPs were allowed freely to enter the legislature after military
forces that had ringed the buildings for days were withdrawn
overnight. Then, somewhat unexpectedly, the parliament was called to
order for only about 15 minutes, just long enough to decide to refer
to another court the question of the members’ right to assemble.
“We are gathered today to review the court rulings, the ruling of the
Supreme Constitutional Court” that ordered the house invalid, speaker
Saad al-Katatni said.
“I want to stress, we are not contradicting the ruling, but looking
at a mechanism for the implementation of the ruling of the respected
court,” he added, in an unexpectedly conciliatory way. “There is no
other agenda today.”
As for a march that had been called for Tuesday afternoon by the
Muslim Brothers to underscore their determination not to relinquish
parliamentary powers, it was called off.
The Brothers’ point of parliamentary privilege was made, but the two
sides clearly showed they want to avoid a confrontation.
Indeed, from his first day in office, Mr. Morsi has shown deference
to Egypt’s military leadership. The new President chose to call on
Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the supreme commander and Minister of
Defence, rather than having the field marshal call on him, a more
normal expression of fealty.
That seeming breach of protocol left some to conclude that Mr. Morsi
was a mere puppet of the field marshal.
More likely, the two sides have worked out a modus vivendi – both
sides realizing they need the other if they’re to get what they want
out of the new political situation.
As far as the military leaders are concerned, they realize the
Brotherhood continues to be the most powerful, best organized
political force in the nation. Its capacity to bring millions into
the streets, and to bring the country to a standstill if needed,
cannot be ignored.
And, whether the Muslim Brothers like it or not, the army remains the
best loved, most respected institution in the country.
As well, its hold over “the many surviving members of the previous
regime in the public administrations, the judiciary and the police”
cannot easily be circumvented, said Francesco Aloisi de Larderel,
former Italian ambassador to Egypt.
All this undoubtedly figured in the surprise decision to pay an
official visit on Saudi Arabia ahead of all other places.
There is no love lost here.
Tensions have long existed between the House of Saud, where the
strict Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam applies, and Egypt’s Muslim
Brotherhood, relatively moderate Islamists who came to power via last
year’s popular uprising. Indeed, the Saudis were cheering for Mr.
Mubarak against the Brotherhood in that uprising.
The Morsi visit to Riyadh soothes the Egyptian military’s concerns
that Saudi Arabia, one of their greatest backers – politically and
financially – might hold a grudge over the political turn of events.
The visit also should alleviate Saudi concerns that the Brothers
might want to align themselves with Iran, Riyadh’s great regional
“The Saudi kingdom has no reservations about the rule of the Muslim
Brotherhood,” said Saudi analyst Jamal Khashoggi, despite friction
between the two parties.
“There are many signs that the Egyptians are prioritizing their
relations with the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, over their
relations with Iran,” Mr. Khashoggi noted. “Egypt is now focusing on
alliances with Turkey and Saudi,” both Sunni Muslim countries with
significant economic potential, he said.
In an interview with the Saudi daily Okaz on Tuesday, Mr. Morsi was
unequivocal in his attitude toward Egypt’s traditional ally.
“We in Egypt cannot forget that Saudi Arabia has always stood by the
Arabs,” he said, adding that “Gulf security is a red line” that must
not be crossed.
“The choice of Saudi Arabia for his first visit reflects the
priorities of both Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, for whom the
Egyptian economy is the top concern and Saudi Arabia is a very
important economic partner,” said Nader Habibi, a professor of the
economics of the Middle East at Brandeis University.
Saudi Arabia plays host to some 1.65 million Egyptian expatriates and
could “increase its investments in Egypt soon,” Saudi ambassador to
Cairo, Ahmad Kattan, said last week.
Riyadh has deposited $1-billion into the Egyptian Central Bank as a
loan guarantee, and Cairo, which is battling a severe economic
crisis, received a $1-billion pledge of assistance from the Saudi-
based Islamic Development Bank earlier this month. (© Copyright 2011
CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. 17/11/11)
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