Prince Mohammed’s visit expected to deepen Saudi-Egyptian ties and open up new prospects for relations
JEDDAH: For decades, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have enjoyed a distinguished relationship. Seen as twin pillars, the two nations have cemented their alliance and cooperation to bolster their individual and joint regional postures, continuing a tradition of deep-rooted historical ties further strengthened with the arrival of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Cairo on Monday.
Strong Egyptian-Saudi ties have symbolic and practical significance for the Arab world. The two nations have historically considered each other important allies in the region, a policy that dates back to May 7, 1936, when Egypt formally recognized the Saudi state.
The two nations have gone from strength to strength and established close diplomatic relations over the years, overcoming obstacles and differences even during turbulent times.
From 1945 to 1946, the official state visits of King Abdul Aziz and King Farouk addressed regional concerns, security and stability, topics high on the agenda of both heads of state, including the Palestinian crisis, Syria and Lebanon, the emergence of an Israeli state and the strengthening of relations between Arab nations with common interests and benefits.
On March 22, 1945, the Arab League was formed. The Arab States Voluntary Association was co-founded by Saudi Arabia and Egypt alongside Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria with the main objectives of strengthening relations, coordinating collaboration, to safeguard the independence and sovereignty of the members and to ensure collective reflection on their affairs and interests.
Sixteen Arab nations have since joined, and the 22 Arab states follow a unified philosophy, “one language, one civilization: 22 Arab countries”.
The Middle East experienced severe political turmoil in the 1950s and 1960s. The region witnessed the fall of several monarchies, two major wars with Israel, growing concerns about lingering tensions, and growing ideological divisions that threatened the unity of the Arab nations. Cordial relations between Saudi Arabia and Egypt were defined by the times.
King Faisal made his first official visit on September 8, 1965, and the monarch visited Egypt seven times during his reign. As Saudi Arabia was uniquely placed to assume a leadership position in the Muslim world, so was Egypt in building its military might.
This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)
In 1973, Egyptian Anwar Sadat supported King Faisal’s oil embargo to protest Western support for Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, also known as the Ramadan War. King Faisal in return supported the coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria during and after the war.
In 1974, King Faisal’s visit further cemented relations between neighboring states, visiting several cities with thousands of Egyptians pouring into the streets to greet him. Likewise, King Fahad and President Hosni Mubarak saw a budding and prosperous relationship that lasted over two decades. The Saudi king has visited Egypt many times, and it was in 1990 that Egypt’s unwavering support proved essential at an emergency Arab League summit, led by Mubarak, to determine the unified commitment of all members of the league to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.
The duo would subsequently agree on a host of issues, in particular the Palestinian crisis which reached a boiling point in 2000 when another call for an emergency league summit was led by the Egypt for a unified position on Israeli-Palestinian violence.
This is the first summit of Arab leaders in four years. Egypt, a key negotiator with Israel, reminded its colleagues of their duty “to try once again to save the peace process”.
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah called on leaders to donate $1 billion to support the Palestinian uprising and fund projects on Palestinian land. Saudi Arabia would contribute 25% of the support.
King Abdullah continued the strong relationship between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, amid growing interests shared by the two Red Sea neighbors on maritime security, tourism and development, without the usual competition for power and influence.
His first visit as head of state was to Sharm el-Sheikh in 2008, during which he focused on the conflict in Iraq and the growing threat from Iran’s nuclear program.
The Arab Spring and its disastrous consequences have not hampered relations between the two nations. After Mubarak’s ouster and following the brief and turbulent leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, the two nations assumed their strong friendship with President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi who took power in 2013.
El-Sisi, was considered a vital friend of Riyadh and the representative of an Egyptian state favorable to the regional status quo.
Bilateral relations have strengthened significantly since then, with Saudi-Egyptian relations increasingly shaped by growing economic ties and joint development projects, bolstered by infrastructure and a conducive investment climate.
Over the past four decades, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have established strong economic, social, humanitarian and cultural ties. The Kingdom offers many opportunities for the Egyptian labor force through legal work visas, and according to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, 1.8 million Egyptians reside in the Kingdom.
In 2016, King Salman addressed the Egyptian Parliament and called for unity and alliance. He was the first Arab leader to deliver such a speech in Cairo, and the visit was also marked by the signing of 21 investment agreements and memoranda of understanding between the two countries.
He was named “Grand Guest” of Egypt and received the Order of the Nile, the country’s highest state honor.
“This visit comes as a confirmation of the promises of brotherhood and solidarity before the two brotherly countries,” El-Sisi said in a televised speech.
An Egyptian-Saudi investment fund has also been established, with a total of $16 billion injected into Saudi investment projects in several Egyptian governorates. There are approximately 2,900 Saudi projects in Egypt and 1,300 Egyptian projects in Saudi Arabia. Total Saudi investment in Egypt amounts to $27 billion.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has made several visits to Cairo since 2017, underscoring the alliance between the two nations, and a host of bilateral agreements and investment project agreements have been signed since.
In 2018, the Kingdom became the second largest foreign investor, accounting for 11% of total foreign investment in Egypt, the volume of which exceeded $6 billion. A $10 billion deal was signed in March of that year with Egypt agreeing to develop land south of Sinai to become part of NEOM.
Egypt’s most critical Saudi investments are in the services sector, including energy, transport, logistics, health and education.
The latest support package came last March, when Saudi Arabia announced a $5 billion aid package deposited with the Central Bank of Egypt.