Are Cairo, Riyadh in a Messy ‘Political Divorce’?

Is the Saudi-Egyptian relations heading for a long-term, strategic divergence or it is merely a passing storm?

Saudi-Egyptian tension
While official spokesmen from both sides have been quick to downplay any signs of a rift, the scale of the latest disagreement means that it can no longer be denied. Photo: A delegation from Saudi Arabia visits the Renaissance Dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, Ethiopia, Dec. 16, 2016. (photo by [email protected])

By Walaa Hussein | Al – Monitor,

It’s clear that Egyptian-Saudi relations have moved past mere tension, and the growing animosity could affect the balance of power in the Middle East.

A Dec. 16 high-level Saudi delegation’s visit to the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia angered Cairo officials and worsened the Egyptian-Saudi status, which has been strained for months.

The visiting delegation — which was led by Ahmed al-Katib, a special adviser to the Saudi monarch — agreed to form a joint committee with Ethiopia to examine the possibility of generating renewable energy. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn called on Saudi Arabia to support the dam financially and invest in his country.



Former Egyptian Water and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Nasreddin Allam said Dec. 17 the visit was a political plot between Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. He said Riyadh was irresponsible to imply it would cooperate with Ethiopia, as Cairo believes the Renaissance Dam poses a threat to Egypt’s water supply.

Allam sees the visit as part of Riyadh’s pressure on Cairo regarding two particular subjects: Egypt’s stance on the civil war in Syria and controversy over ownership of two Red Sea islands.

An Egyptian court is blocking the government’s agreement earlier this year to cede ownership of the strategically located islands of Sanafir and Tiran to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis want the government to do more to get the deal back on track. Riyadh also wants Cairo to back down on its stance toward Syria. Saudi Arabia supports rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Cairo has backed Russia’s efforts to support Assad by bombing the rebels.

After Cairo backed Russia’s position on a resolution on Syria at the UN Security Council in October, state-owned Saudi Aramco halted shipments of petroleum products to Egypt. Aramco had a $23 billion agreement to export 700,000 tons per month to Egypt.

The recent Saudi moves toward cooperating with Ethiopia to generate power through the dam differ from the kingdom’s previous position. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir had said in April that Saudi Arabia would not invest in the dam.

Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Ati told Al-Monitor that negotiations on the dam among Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are ongoing, but need to speed up.

Allam, however, told Al-Monitor that no talks on the dam are currently underway between Egypt and Ethiopia. He said talks have been halted since September, when Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia agreed to entrust French consulting firms to examine the impact of the dam and its potential damage to Egypt and Sudan.

Allam added that the consulting firms have not embarked on their work as required, and that there are pending routine complications. He noted that the Ethiopian government has not completed the first construction phase of the Renaissance Dam on time. He also said, “It is clear that Ethiopia is facing a problem when it comes to the provision of funds for the completion of the dam.”

Hatem Bachat, the chairman of the Egyptian parliament’s African Affairs Committee, told Al-Monitor the Egyptian media has overblown the significance of the Saudi delegation’s visit to the dam, and he refused to characterize it as political plot. He said the visit probably signaled no bad intention toward Egyptians, though its timing was bad, given the tense situation.

However, Samir Ghattas, a member of Egypt’s parliament and head of the Middle East Forum for Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor, “It was not a simple, ordinary visit.” He called the trip “part of the proceedings of a political divorce that has recently begun between Cairo and Riyadh.”

Ghattas added that the visit was dangerous because it was related to the very sensitive subject of Egypt’s water security. He said all of the Gulf countries (with the exception of the United Arab Emirates) are disturbed by Egypt’s actions after the deadly Dec. 11 explosion inside St. Peter and St. Paul Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, as evidenced by the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Dec. 15 statement denouncing Egypt for implying Qatar was involved in the blast.

Al-Monitor interviewed a number of citizens to get the pulse of the Egyptian street. Those interviewed said they do not believe that Saudi Arabia would harm the Egyptian people. Mohamed Abdel-Rahman said, “I do not believe that the people of the holy land [Saudi Arabia] would support a project that would cause the Egyptian people to be thirsty.”

Citizen Alaa Khalaf said, “Even though the Saudi leaders approve of the [potential] injustice caused to the Egyptian people, the [Saudi] people will not.”

Masoum Marzouk, a former deputy foreign minister, told Al-Monitor the Saudi visit to the Renaissance Dam will not affect the dam’s construction, which should be complete next year. Yet the visit did not really serve the interest of the Saudis as much as it annoyed Egypt, he said.

He added, “Saudi pressure will not alter the Egyptian position toward Syria … because the head of state cannot send a single soldier abroad without the consent of the people and parliament.”

  • CUT EGO

    Arabs are starting to see and notice the main problem of Arabs countries is the minority regime in Ethiopia.thanks PIA for the work you have done.
    DEATH TO WOYANE [****].

  • JJ

    I believe the recent Saudi visit to Ethiopia had to do with sending a message to Egypt or to put pressure on Egypt to 1) Support Saudi position on Syria 2) give up the islands Egypt promised to transfer to Saudi ownership. That’s it! Saudi Arabia will not invest in a dam that hurts Muslims in Egypt. When push comes to shove, Saudis will stand with Egypt on the Nile water issue. In other words, their visit was all about photo-ops.

    • B.Adal

      Saudis will sleep with anyone for their survival, including with Israel, at the expense of their Palestinian Muslim “brothers”

      • Nahom

        FYI
        Palestinians are not only Muslims

    • One Observer

      I agree. I do think the Saudi rep got played by the woyanes. My guess is that the woyanes where trying to get him to see their various development projects, which included the contentious dam they are building. Little did Saudi Rep know that this simple photo will used for political purposes by the woyane to claim diplomatic victory over Egypt. Case in point, the Saudis have never made a statement about this photo. Nor did the Egyptian gov say anything about it. It’s just Egyptian talking heads. I am sure Saudis find all this crazy – if not well played by the Woyanes. Anyhow, in the absence of concrete evidence that Saudi supports the Woyane project, through direct investment or official statement, this is too much about nothing. Oh yeah, I will have to give 1 point to Woaynes and 0 point to Saudi.

    • Salaam Shalom
      • Thanks for sharing this must-read commentary. By far, this gives the most detailed analysis on the deteriorating relations between Cairo and Riyadh from the scratch.

        ” …. Clearly, the two countries do not have the same priorities: the kingdom is mainly worried about the Iranian menace, while Egypt is bogged down in its war against terrorism in the Sinaï and against ISIS in Libya. And yet there is much to unite them, in particular their hostility towards the “Arab spring” and their commitment to regional “stability.” Thus they co-operate on the Palestinian question and also, more discreetly, work together to counter Iranian influence in the Horn of Africa, and particularly in Eritrea and Sudan. These manoeuvres resulted in Khartoum and Teheran breaking off diplomatic relations earlier this year. “Between Egypt and Saudi Arabia there is a marriage of convenience and a Catholic one to boot,” an Arab diplomat stationed in Riyadh explains with a smile: “Divorce is not an option!”

  • Peace

    The more significant news is how important the Red Sea has become to the GCC countries in trying to make sure the Horn does not fall under Iranian influence. As such, UAE and Saudi are in the Red Sea to stay for a long time. That means, UAE is there to stay in Assab even long after Woyane falls from power. And that’s a good thing for Eritrea and the stability of the region.

  • One Observer

    PLEASE spare me on this. I guarantee you all that there is no there, there when it comes to this current squabble b/n Egypt and Saudis. As usual, there are domestic political reasons for these two countries to allow all this nonsense to go on for a while – say till mid-year 2017. Both Egypt and Saudis’ economies are struggling, and their underemployed yet over caffeinated peoples need this to take out their frustration on. Besides, this is a safe issue for both Govs to take on since they can easily resolve this when the time is right. Relatively, they don’t know how things will turn now days if they pick direct fight with traditional enemies like Israel and Iran. You get my point: in 6 month or so, as Assad of Syria is expected declare victory, Egypt and Saudi will kiss and make up – in a beautiful Arab style.

    So, settle down you all and focus on the prize: protect our hard won independence and dislodge Woyane misinformation. BTW, part of protecting our independence is giving our government tangible and specific feedback backed facts (not he said she said stuff). Let us make 2017 the Eritrean year. Cheers!

    Happy New Year

    • Nadew

      Fuck off shaboon-baboon face! Allow me to tell you this…your days will never ever come so long as Isafa is in control of your mother f**ker ass. Created loser remain loser &askaris forever!!

      • NAKFA

        Calm down man ,don’t get mad.

      • B.Adal

        Shaebia/EPLF Dancing after the Demise of your Nadew Command. This was when Ethiopians finally woke-up to the news that their ugly ass will be land locked. Witness “Shabo” making History at the expense of your “3000 bla bla bla ” Mama Ethiopia … Enjoy, but first remove any rope or sharp object from your reach 🙂 Hahahahah …. Hahahahahah …

    • ኣሌክ – Alec you

      Well said. 👍🏿🇪🇷

  • merhaba

    Saudi Arabia are heartless with weyane together ,While the Ethiopian people starving to death ,AlaMudi was feeding the Saudi with Ethiopian rice From BeteShangul Farmer land.The Saudi Arabia Ethio relationship is sickening in the first place .I think they are playing a big political games .As for me the Arab country are not Human only big in money but poor in humanity.I will never trust Saudi for anything,But that is only my opinion.

  • Truth

    Hello all:
    Please check out the news about the recent Saudi-Sudanese High Level Military Meeting in Khartoum.
    Please review what I said earlier when this Saudi-Egyptian saga started few weeks ago….
    On a side note,PM BB of the Jewish State confidently declared that there is no such thing called “A Two State Solution”..
    And note that the Saudis are MUTE on this Palestine issue apparently coz the Jewish State ordered the Corrupted and Mercenary Saudi Royal Family to do so…and to act against Cairo and to weaken Cairo…for obvious reasons.
    -Cairo Position on Syria
    -Cairo’s apparent but legit refusal to give up its Islands(very highly coveted by Israel)
    -Cairo’s refusal to abide by Saudi Arabia’s orders.
    Then the mercenary Saudi Royal Family is retaliating against Cairo by:
    -Visiting Ethiopia and its GERD-to finance it
    -Persuading the Sudan to act against Cairo
    -Building a naval base in Djibouti
    -keeping mute about the Palestinian issue
    What should Eritrea do then?
    Have your say…
    So difficult to remain neutral…
    While cautiously working with the Saudi Kingdom, keep the Cooperation with Cairo and the UAE..as..Qatar seems to have gone…

    • MammoQilo

      Did you say ”visiting Ethiopia and its GERD-TO FINANCE it”? Really? Finance it? Where and when did the Saudis say that, Adwa Boy? Can you provide the readers with any proof?

      You know, you don’t have to post an essay just to insert that rubbish statement. ዓጃው!

  • ኣሌክ – Alec you

    Even tho the Saudi and Egypt are not in the same bus when it comes to Syria. It’s just for publicity. Cuz Saudi knows it can’t win against Egypt on this one.. Cuz ISIS is becoming a threat to Egypt in Sinaï and in neighboring country Libya. It’s necessary for Egypt to disobey the KSA. And yes Egypt is going to give up the islands it promised to transfer to Saudi ownership, cuz its economy depends on it. By giving up the islands it’s going to save the stress out of it economy.

    So.. This Saudi visit to Ethiopia is just an act.. soon Egypt and Saudi will make-out while the ጭፍራ in the south get blindsided. The Arabs are laying the groundwork for Egypt by feeding a few cash as investment in Ethiopia.. and that is blinding the ዓታሩ in dedebit😂 Egypt now have a yes on S.Sudan for military ground att.. no-wonder the arms embargo sanction is delayed. I wonder why🤔

    Don’t forget soon..

    1- Eritrea is coming for its land=> Tigray is choked by Eritrea, the border is closed for tiny Tigray.

    2- And the Amhara are also coming for their annxed land. So now Tigray is getting landlocked by Gonder. Even the border with Sudan is going to be closed when Amhara gets its land back.

    3- The Oromo are fighting for their dignity and their land that was taking from them by Woyane-Tigray for the so called investment that only benefited the woyane.

    4- Benisangul hates Woyane-Tigray to death so it on-bored on destroying TPLF apartheid regime.

    5- And the Afar ppl in Ethiopia are also raising against the Tigrayan dominated power regime ‘TPRDF’.. and if the Afar ppl succeeded on defending themselves.. Tigray is going to be cut-off from Djibouti.. and that is going to be the great chock of them all.

    6- Ogaden is fighting for its survival cuz almost all its land is deserted because the TPLF regime is killing/massacring the Ogaden ppl without mercy in-order to plunder its resources.

    7- and Egypt.. fighting for its survival, cuz without the Nile water life in Egypt will ceases to exist. So ya.. Egypt is going to fund anyone that is against Woyane-Tigray. And lets face it nobody likes the Woyane of Tigray except Tigrayans.😏

    Now.. The TPLF apartheid regime in Ethiopia is sandwiched.. By Eritrea, Amhara, Oromo, Gambella, Afar, Ogaden, Benisangul etc. The only option Tigrayans/Agame ppl have is to join the ppl of Ethiopia or suffer for the sins of TPLF apartheid regime.