The vicious crosswind ripping through Egyptian politics comes from the great Sunni-Shi’ite civil war now enveloping the Muslim world from the Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean.
It took just two days for the interim government installed last week by Egypt’s military to announce that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States would provide emergency financing for the bankrupt Egyptian state...
As the World Bulletin website reported July 6:
“The Finance Ministry has intensified its contacts [with Gulf states] to stand on the volume of financial aid announced,” caretaker Finance Minister Fayyad Abdel Moneim told the Anadolu Agency in a phone interview Saturday. Abdel Moneim spoke of contacts with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Kuwait for urgent aid … Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi phoned Saudi Kind Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz and UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nuhayyan yesterday on the latest developments in Egypt. King Abdullah was the first Arab and foreign leader to congratulate interim president Adly Mansour after his swearing-in ceremony.Meanwhile, Egypt’s central bank governor, Hisham Ramez, was on a plane to Abu Dhabi July 7 “to drum up badly need financial support”, the Financial Times reported. The Saudis and the UAE had pledged, but not provided, US$8 billion in loans to Egypt, because the Saudi monarchy hates and fears the Muslim Brotherhood as its would-be grave-digger. With the brothers out of power, things might be different. The Saudi Gazette wrote July 6:
Egypt may be able to count on more aid from two other rich Gulf States. Egypt “is in a much better position now to receive aid from Saudi Arabia and the UAE”, said Citigroup regional economist Farouk Soussa. “Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have promised significant financial aid to Egypt. It is more likely that Egypt will receive it now.”Media accounts ignored the big picture, and focused instead on the irrelevant figure of Mohamed al-Baradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner whose appointment as prime minister in the interim government was first announced and then withdrawn on Saturday. It doesn’t matter who sits in the Presidential Palace if the country runs out of bread.
Tiny Qatar had already expended a third of its foreign exchange reserves during the past year in loans to Egypt, which may explain why the eccentric emir was replaced in late June by his son.
Only Saudi Arabia with its $630 billion of cash reserves has the wherewithal to bridge Egypt’s $20 billion a year cash gap. With the country’s energy supplies nearly exhausted and just two months’ supply of imported wheat on hand, the victor in Cairo will be the Saudi party.
I predicted this development in a July 4 post at PJ Media, noting,
The Saudis have another reason to get involved in Egypt, and that is the situation in Syria. Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war, now guided by Prince Bandar, the new chief of Saudi Intelligence, has a double problem. The KSA wants to prevent Iran from turning Syria into a satrapy and fire base, but fears that the Sunni jihadists to whom it is sending anti-aircraft missiles eventually might turn against the monarchy. The same sort of blowback afflicted the kingdom after the 1980s Afghan war, in the person of Osama bin Laden....The now-humiliated Muslim Brotherhood is a Nazi-inspired totalitarian party carrying a crescent in place of a swastika. If Mohamed Morsi had remained in power, he would have turned Egypt into a North Korea on the Nile, a starvation state in which the ruling party rewards the quiescent with a few more calories.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been fighting for influence among Syria’s Sunni rebels (as David Ottaway reported earlier this week at National Interest). Cutting off the Muslim Brotherhood at the knees in Egypt will help the KSA limit potential blowback in Syria.”
The head of Egypt’s armed forces, Field Marshal Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, is not a democrat, but a dedicated Islamist whose wife is said to wear the full niqab body covering, according to Naval Postgraduate School professor Robert Springborg. “Islamic ideology penetrates Sisi’s thinking about political and security matters,” Springborg observes.
The question is not whether Islamism, but whose. Some Saudi commentators claim al-Sisi as their Islamist, for example Asharq al-Awsat columnist Hussein Shobokshi, who wrote July 7, “God has endowed al-Sisi with the Egyptians’ love. In fact, al-Sisi brought a true legitimacy to Egypt, which will open the door to hope after a period of pointlessness, immaturity and distress. Al-Sisi will go down in history and has gained the love of people.”
The Saudi-funded Salafist (ultra-Islamist) Nour Party in Egypt backed the military coup, probably because it is Saudi-funded, while other Salafists took to the streets with the Muslim Brotherhood to oppose it. Again, none of this matters. The will of a people that cannot feed itself has little weight. Egypt is a banana republic without the bananas.
Whether Egypt slides into chaos or regains temporary stability under the military depends on what happens in the royal palace at Riyadh, not in Tahrir Square. It appears that the Saudis have embraced the military-backed government, whoever it turns out to include. It is conceivable that the Saudis vetoed the ascension of al-Baradei, hilariously described as a “liberal” in the major media. Al-Baradei is a slippery and unprincipled operator who did great damage to Western interests.
As head of the International Atomic Energy Agency until 2009, the Egyptian diplomat repeatedly intervened to distort his own inspectors’ reports about the progress of Iran’s nuclear program. In effect, he acted as an Iranian agent of influence. [See also Claudia Rosett today on al-Baradei].
The Saudis have more to fear from Iran than anyone else. Iran (as Michael Ledeen observes) is trying to subvert the Saudi regime through the Shi’ite minority in Eastern Province. If Riyadh did not blackball his nomination as prime minister, it should have.
There isn’t going to be a war with Israel, as some commentators have offered.
Israel is at worst a bystander and at best a de facto ally of the Saudis. The Saudi Wahabists hate Israel, to be sure, and would be happy if the Jewish State and all its inhabitants vanished tomorrow. But Israel presents no threat at all to Riyadh, while Iran represents an existential threat.
The Saudis, we know from WikiLeaks, begged the United States to attack Iran, or to let Israel do so.
The Egyptian military has no interest in losing another war with the Jewish state. It may not have enough diesel fuel to drive a division of tanks to the border.
The Saudi regime, to be sure, sponsors any number of extremist malefactors through its network of Wahabist mosques and madrassas. But the present Saudi intervention in Egypt – if I read the signals right – is far more consistent with American strategic interests than the sentimental meanderings of the Barack Obama administration, or the fetishism of parliamentary form that afflicts the Republican establishment.
The Saudi regime is an abomination by American standards, but the monarchy is a rational actor. As Michael Ledeen observed a year ago, “The big oil region in Saudi Arabia is in Shiite country, and the Saudi Shi’ites have little love for the royal family. If the rulers saw us moving against Tehran and Damascus, it would be easier for us to convince them to cut back their support for jihad outside the kingdom.”
The United States has less influence in the region than at any time since World War II, due to gross incompetence of the Obama administration as well as the Republican establishment. The Obama administration as well as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham courted the Muslim Brotherhood as a prospective vehicle for Muslim democracy, ignoring the catastrophic failure of the Egyptian economy as well as the totalitarian character of the Brotherhood.
Americans instinctively ask about any problem overseas, “Who are the good guys?” When told that there are no good guys, they go to see a different movie.
There are no good guys in Egypt, except perhaps for the hapless democracy activists who draw on no social constituency and wield no power, and the endangered Coptic Christian minority. There are only forces that coincide with American interests for reasons of their own.
It is a gauge of American foreign policy incompetence that the medieval Saudi monarchy is a better guardian of American interests in Egypt for the time being than the United States itself.