Egypt's Mohamed Mursi at Tahrir Square rally 370 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS / Handout)
The Saudi Arabian press on Sunday hailed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s
decision to make Riyadh his first foreign visit as a significant development for
Cairo’s relationship with the Gulf states, and a blow for Iran.
Arabia’s ambassador in Cairo, Mohammed al-Qattan, announced Saturday that Mursi
will visit the kingdom on Wednesday.
Saudi’s As-Sharq newspaper said the
news of Mursi’s visit would “overpower Tehran’s lies,” referring to reports in
the Iranian state press that Egypt’s new president would pick Tehran as his
first official visit.
The announcement that Mursi would visit Riyadh came
after a week of speculation by Iran’s state-run media over whether the newly
elected Egyptian president would visit Tehran in August for the Non- Aligned
Mursi has not yet accepted Iran’s invitation to attend
the NAM summit, though last week, Iran’s Mehr news agency cited Iranian Foreign
Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying Tehran was ready for “ambassadorial- level”
links with Cairo.
In its editorial on Sunday, As- Sharq accused the
Iranian press of trying to drive a wedge between Egypt and the Gulf States,
which it said was part of Tehran’s strategy of damaging Cairo’s relations with
Riyadh in order to establish its own foothold in Egypt.
referred to a report published by Iran’s ultra-conservative Fars News, which
said its reporters had interviewed Mursi shortly before the results of the
Egyptian presidential runoff elections were announced, and had asked him about
his plans to visit Saudi Arabia. Mursi later said the interview was
As-Sharq also noted Mursi’s pledge not to “export” the
Egyptian revolution to other countries.
The Iranian regime has claimed it
has exported its own Islamic Revolution to other Middle Eastern countries,
As-Sharq said Mursi’s choice of Riyadh showed the new
Egyptian administration instead viewed Saudi Arabia as a “strategic partner at
the political level” as well as a “mainstay on the map of Egypt’s foreign
relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds.”
Saudi Arabia severed ties
with Cairo in 1979, when Egypt signed its peace treaty with Israel. The two
countries restored diplomatic relations in 1987.
Relations between Cairo
and Riyadh were tested again in April after Egyptians protested the detention of
Egyptian human rights attorney Ahmed Mohammed al-Gizawi in Saudi Arabia. The
protests led to Saudi Arabia announcing the closure of its embassy in Cairo and
its consulates in Alexandria and Suez.
Mursi’s decision to visit Saudi
Arabia ran contrary to expectations that relations between Cairo and Riyadh
would be strained further by an Islamist president in Egypt, the paper
“The meeting in Riyadh between King Abdullah and the Egyptian
president could serve as an introduction to the deepening of ties between the
two countries, especially in trade and investments,” the paper wrote in an
editorial that was quickly picked up and quoted in media around the Arab
Yoel Guzansky, a researcher at the Institute for Strategic Studies
in Tel Aviv and former staff member at the National Security Council, told The
Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Mursi’s choice of Saudi Arabia for his first
foreign state visit was highly symbolic, and demonstrated that Egypt looked to
Saudi Arabia not just for economic assistance but also for leadership.
visiting Saudi Arabia, Mursi is also making a statement that Egypt’s place is
not with Iran, according to Guzansky.
Mursi heads the Islamist Freedom
and Justice Party, which the Muslim Brotherhood founded in April 2011. While
some members of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood have supported Iran’s “radical”
role in the Middle East, Guzansky said most take a negative view the Shi’ite
Islamic Republic’s talk of “exporting” Iran’s revolution elsewhere.
also has economic reasons to develop strong ties with Saudi Arabia.
year, Saudi Arabia pledged $4 billion in aid to Egypt, in the form of long-term
loans and grants – money which Mursi needs to help shore up Egypt’s struggling
“Egypt cannot let go of the Saudis,” Guzansky said.