The Ethiopian dam between Egypt and Saudi Arabia


A photo of Saudi official Ahmad Al-Khatib visiting Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam has apparently been taken by some media outlets as a pretext for an exchange of insults that portray warm Saudi-Egyptian relations as nosediving. Even if the photo and visit are intended for hidden purposes other than tourism and investment, managing the crisis via media is a failed, obsolete and harmful way of applying pressure.
Ethiopia is an economically significant African country, on which the US relies to address a number of military and political issues on the continent. For example, thanks to Addis Ababa Washington has managed to contain Somalia by force — unlike Afghanistan — and subject Eritrea to its diktats.
Still, Egypt is more important and valued to Saudis than Ethiopia. This is undoubtedly a settled issue, even if Egyptian and Saudi media personalities claim otherwise. Admittedly there is a thaw in bilateral ties, but it was not triggered by major regional political issues. Shrewd diplomats should separate differences from overall relations.
Disagreements are usual when there are extensive, complicated relations — that is why our relations with Scandinavian states are stable. The reason for tension between the two brotherly countries is not Syria, as is alleged.
Also, I do not think reports of Egypt providing Yemeni rebels with missiles are true because Cairo knows that such an act is dangerous given that Houthi missiles are used to kill Saudi civilians and target towns and villages in the Kingdom. All these rumors are circulated by Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers.
Likewise, reports that Iraq’s government is planning to supply Egypt with oil products after Saudi Arabia stopped its supplies are not sensible, as Iraq is unable to meet its own needs and cannot continue to supply oil for free.
As for Egypt’s stance on Syria, I think it is a realistic one and no different from Turkey’s recent stance. And when the last two Syria-related resolutions were discussed by the UN General Assembly, Egypt voted for the Syrian people against the regime of President Bashar Assad, unlike some other Arab allies.
In addition, Cairo’s recent withdrawal of the UN Security Council resolution on the illegality of Israel’s settlement activity was dictated by its own circumstances. We do not expect Egypt to endanger its security and major interests, especially since other countries fulfilled the duty and supported the step, relieving Cairo from getting involved in a crisis over a symbolical resolution.
The differences between Riyadh and Cairo are centered on bilateral, not secondary issues. They may be resolved in a month, a year, or not at all. Strategic relations should not be open for bargaining. It is wrong to think that Egypt is merely showing solidarity with Gulf countries when it supports them against Iran; it does so to serve its ultimate interests by preventing Iran from expanding, whether in Syria, Iraq or the Gulf.
Cairo realizes that Iran’s expansion is threatening its status as a balancing regional power. However, if Egypt opts to segregate itself and give up its role, other big regional countries are fully prepared to take over. Gulf countries are the ones that are able to tip the balance between Turkey, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Iran.
Playing a regional role adds greatly to any country’s value, whether politically, militarily or economically. In this context, Egypt receives the second-largest amount of US military and economic aid, not just as a part of the Camp David Accords, but also for its regional importance, which foiled attempts by some Congressmen to stop or reduce it.
The biggest fault with Gulf-Egyptian ties is that they lack depth. Recent moves to build economic partnerships are laudable because they guarantee sustainable relations, instead of those established on grants and donations. Such partnerships would greatly increase economic activity between the two sides, and change the status of the economies of Egypt and Gulf countries. This has been proposed to Cairo by the Saudi and Emirati governments.
However, bureaucracy is Egypt’s biggest ever enemy. If it does not quickly undertake economic reform, it will lose the historic chances that are developing in the Gulf, and will never be a giant economic partner, but will continue to rely on aid that will eventually decrease.
Finally, we are fully aware that enemies to both sides — who are spreading photos of fake missiles, exaggerating limited political decisions and advocating boycotts — are trying to wreak havoc on Egyptian-Gulf relations.