S. Arabia 'prime destination' for Egypt presidents

By Hagar al-Dosoki, Thursday, May 08, 2014

A recent announcement by presidential front runner Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi that his first foreign visit would be to Saudi Arabia

A recent announcement by presidential front runner Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi that his first foreign visit would be to Saudi Arabia

CAIRO – A recent announcement by presidential front runner Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi that his first foreign visit would be to Saudi Arabia should he win upcoming polls follows a pattern set by consecutive Egyptian leaders over the past three years – despite Riyadh's unfavorable stance on the "Arab Spring" uprisings of which Egypt was once considered a leader.

Since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, consecutive Egyptian leaders have unerringly chosen the Arabian Gulf powerhouse as their first foreign destination.

"Riyadh has been a consistent political supporter and financial backer of Egyptian governments," Abdullah al-Harithi, deputy editor-in-chief of Saudi daily Okaz, told Anadolu Agency.

In his first television appearance since being declared a presidential candidate, al-Sisi said he would head to Saudi Arabia for his first foreign visit if he wins elections slated for May 26-27.

The former army chief, who led the ouster of elected president Mohamed Morsi last summer, went on to describe Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz as a "great and wise" man.

Adly Mansour, Egypt's interim president who was installed by the army following Morsi's overthrow, visited Saudi Arabia last October – his first foreign visit since his appointment.

Morsi himself visited the oil-rich kingdom in 2012, shortly after being sworn in as Egypt's first freely elected president.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's Supreme Military Council (which took over from Mubarak following the latter's ouster), also visited Saudi Arabia in 2011 – also his first official trip abroad – to offer condolences for the death of crown prince Emir Sultan Bin Abdul-Aziz.

"Egyptian leaders realize that Riyadh is a key player in regional and Arab affairs," said Mokhtar Ghobashi, deputy head of the Cairo-based Arab Center for Political and Strategic Studies, an Egyptian NGO.

"Saudi emirs have exerted effort to explain Egypt's political situation to Western leaders," he added. "And Egypt will need Riyadh to assist with its economic problems in the upcoming period."

Saudi Arabia was among the first Arab countries to welcome the Egyptian army's removal of Morsi last summer, offering billions of dollars to prop up Egypt's foundering economy.

In March, Saudi Arabia labeled Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group a "terrorist organization." The move came three months after the Egyptian government took a similar decision.

Popular perceptions of Egypt-Saudi relations have contrasted with Egypt's official pro-Saudi orientation, due largely to Riyadh's earlier support for the Hosni Mubarak regime.

In April 2012, Saudi authorities arrested an Egyptian lawyer on charges of drug possession, triggering a public outcry in Egypt.

Egyptian activists staged several protests against the Saudi authorities, prompting Riyadh to recall its ambassador from Egypt and temporarily close its consulates in the country.

Egypt's upcoming presidential elections, slated for May 26-27, will see al-Sisi vie for top office against leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi.

A recent report in private Egyptian daily Al-Masry al-Youm quoted a senior Egyptian official as saying that Saudi Arabia had pledged further economic assistance to Egypt should al-Sisi become president.

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