Saudis: News of Mursi’s Riyadh visit as blow to Iran

In first official visit abroad, Islamist president will meet Saudi King Abdullah; hasn't yet accepted Iranian invitation.

Egypt's Mohamed Mursi at Tahrir Square rally 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS / Handout)
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.
Saudi 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 Movement’s summit.
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.
The paper 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 fabricated.
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, including Egypt.
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 said.
“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 world.
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.
By 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.
Mursi also has economic reasons to develop strong ties with Saudi Arabia.
Last 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 economy.
“Egypt cannot let go of the Saudis,” Guzansky said.