Mursi hails 'fruitful' talks with Saudi king

Egyptian president discusses Syria, Gulf security with King Abdullah - but economic matters are also high on the agenda.

Saudi Arabia's Abdullah welcomes Egypt's Morsi (photo credit: reuters)
Saudi Arabia's Abdullah welcomes Egypt's Morsi
(photo credit: reuters)
In his first international visit since taking office, Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi said his talks with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah had been “fruitful” and had covered bilateral relations, Gulf security and Syria, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Thursday.
Though the news agency provided few details about the discussions between the two leaders, it cited Mursi as praising King Abdullah for showing “wisdom, love and knowledge of the Egyptian people.”
Mursi said that the stability of the region depended on that of Egypt and the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, however, both the Saudi and Egyptian press reported Thursday that Cairo’s much-needed economic ties with the oil-rich kingdom were also high on the agenda for Egypt’s new president during his Saudi visit.
Egypt needs ties with Saudi Arabia to help overcome its economic difficulties. After the Egyptian revolution last year, Riyadh pledged a $4 billion assistance package, in the form of long-term loans and grants, to assist Egypt in propping up its failing economy.
Saudi Arabia has also offered additional assistance, including $1b. to Egypt’s Central Bank, according to MENA, Egypt’s state news agency.
Meanwhile, the Saudi Okaz newspaper on Thursday cited an interview with Egyptian Planning and International Cooperation Minister Dr. Faiza Aboul-Naga, who said that Cairo placed great importance on its relations with Riyadh – again noting the significant aid package Saudi Arabia had given Egypt.
Egyptian Foreign Trade and Industry Minister Mahmoud Issa also told the Saudi paper that Mursi’s visit was a “significant milestone in the history of the special relationship” between the two countries, adding that Egyptian-Saudi trade was very important to his country.
Issa said Mursi wanted Saudis to invest more in Egypt, adding that Cairo would provide assurances and security for Saudi investors.
Meanwhile, the Saudiowned, London-based Asharq Alawsat newspaper said Thursday that Mursi intended to discuss the issue of facilitating investment procedures for Saudi businessmen in Egypt, including government support for small and medium projects.
During his short trip to Saudi Arabia, Mursi also focused on Egyptian expatriates in Saudi Arabia, and the contribution they could make to Egypt’s economy.
Dr. Said Yahya, president of the Board of Directors of the Egyptian community in west and south Saudi Arabia, told Asharq Alawsat that Mursi’s visit would cement the foundations of understanding between the two countries.
Approximately 1.5 million Egyptian expatriates work in Saudi Arabia, and – significantly – many voted for Mursi in Egypt’s presidential runoff elections.
On Thursday, Mursi called for Egyptian expatriates to invest in their homeland.
Speaking at a meeting in the Egyptian Consulate in Jeddah with Egyptian nationals living in Saudi Arabia, the newly elected president said that worldwide there are around 10 million Egyptians living and working abroad.
Mursi reassured the Jeddah delegation, which included Egyptian businessmen, academics and doctors, that “the doors are open for safe investment.”
The audience chanted slogans in support of Mursi, according to Egyptian daily Al- Masry Al-Youm, including “Lift your head up, you’re Egyptian” – the chant of victory in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian revolution.
In an editorial on Wednesday, the paper said Mursi’s choice of Riyadh for his first official visit was highly significant, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring, because it signified that Mursi’s foreign policy strategy was to further Egypt’s national security and strategic interests, regardless of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology.
The Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have expressed fears about the Brotherhood’s growing influence in Egypt.
Earlier this year, Dubai police chief Dhahi Khalfan Tamim accused the group of plotting to take over Gulf states.
Mursi’s visit could convince the Saudis that Egypt can play a vital role in the region, and that a strategic partnership between the two countries would curb Iran’s regional aspirations, Al-Masry al-Youm said.
Saudi Arabia severed ties with Cairo in 1979, when Egypt signed the Camp David peace accords with Israel. The two countries restored diplomatic relations in 1987 and enjoyed close ties during former president Hosni Mubarak’s time in office.
However, relations between Cairo and Riyadh were tested in April after Egyptians protested the detention of Egyptian human rights attorney Ahmed Mohammed al-Gizawi in Saudi Arabia. The protests let to Saudi Arabia announcing the closure of its embassy in Cairo and its consulates in Alexandria and Suez.
The newly elected Egyptian president’s visit to Saudi Arabia comes even as the exact extent of his powers remains unclear, and amid a struggle with Egypt’s judges and the military over the Islamist-dominated lower house of parliament. In a move last month that was strongly opposed by the Brotherhood, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a decree dissolving the lower house of Parliment, after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that a third of MPs had been elected illegally.
After Mursi decided Sunday to reconvene parliament, the court said that it holds “exclusive jurisdiction over the constitutionality of laws.” On Wednesday, before his Saudi visit, Mursi said he would negotiate with other wings of government on the matter.
Meanwhile, later on Thursday, the Saudi Press Agency reported that after his meeting with King Abdullah, Mursi visited Mecca in order to perform the Umrah pilgrimage. Unlike the Haj, which must be undertaken at a specific time, Umrah can be undertaken at any time of year.