By Sinem Cengiz
29 August 2013
The big brother of the Gulf bloc, Saudi Arabia, was among the first countries to celebrate the military coup that ousted Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, in early July.
Protesters and activists shout slogans in protest against former President Hosni Mubarak's release from prison. (Photo: Reuters, Mohamed Abd el-Ghany)
While Riyadh, which has had strained ties with Cairo since Morsi's party came to power, didn't hesitate to openly support the coup regime, its key ally, Washington, is still wrestling with how to react to the military coup in Egypt.
The divergence of opinion between the US, which seems to have developed antipathy towards Egyptian Army Chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the mastermind of the coup, and Saudi Arabia, which is the staunchest supporter of Sisi, has become more apparent as the course of the coup changes in Egypt.
The difference of stance between Washington and Riyadh became clearer when the US adopted a strong stance against the bloody crackdown of Egyptian security forces on the supporters of deposed Morsi, which resulted in the killing of thousands.
Soon after the US condemnation of the crackdown, Saudi Arabia said oil-rich Arabs were ready to compensate for whatever funds are withdrawn by Western governments, implicitly referring to Washington's aid. Although the US has been reluctant to completely cut off military aid, US President Barack Obama's administration has put off some aircraft shipments and postponed military exercises.
“To those who have announced they are cutting their aid to Egypt, or threatening to do that, [we say that] Arab and Muslim nations are rich... and will not hesitate to help Egypt,” Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said in a statement carried by the SPA state news agency.
Saudi Arabia, which fears the spread of Muslim Brotherhood's ideology to the Gulf monarchies, alone pledged $5 billion out of a $12 billion Gulf aid package to Egypt after the deposed Morsi was ousted -- diminishing the impact of any US cutoff.
Saudi Arabia's strong support for Egypt's military government has put Washington at odds with its key Gulf ally as the coup regime gets more courage with the support of Gulf to confront Muslim Brotherhood rather than reconcile -- something the US is against as such an approach would be less likely to stabilize the country and may lead to radicalization of some groups in the country.
Saudi Arabia also reacted to the condemnation of the West, including Washington's condemnation -- a move which has demonstrated that for Saudi Arabia “fears overcome the interests.” King Abdullah declared Friday that “[t]he kingdom stands … against all those who try to interfere with its domestic affairs.” Really, a clear message to the White House.
Saudi Arabia's Changing Policy towards the US
It is not a secret that since long ago, Saudi Arabia started not to consider the US as a reliable protector in the region, trusting itself and engaging in policies that would serve its own interests. Riyadh's stance in Egypt is a good example of this policy.
Another important detail is that Riyadh's national Security Council and head of Saudi Arabia's intelligence service, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who also served as Riyadh's Ambassador to Washington for more than two decades, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of July -- a meeting that raised questions in the minds of some over the changing calculations of Riyadh towards the region and more importantly towards its ally, the US. According to a Reuters report, Bandar offered to buy up to $15 billion in Russian arms and coordinate energy policy.
This is not the first time that Saudi Arabia challenged its key ally, the US. In the 1973 Arab-Israel war, Saudi Arabia imposed an oil embargo on countries that supported Israel -- a move that received a harsh reaction from the Washington. The United States threatened to use force against Saudi Arabia in 1973 after King Faisal, along with other Arab leaders, imposed an oil embargo, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.
We are at a time when the balances in the region are rapidly shifting, leading to changes in the calculations of both regional and global actors, more importantly in the calculations of even key allies.