Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has arrived in Cairo, underlining the strong support of the monarch for Egypt’s newly elected President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Abdullah landed in Cairo on his way home from Morocco on Friday, becoming the first foreign leader to visit Sisi since he took Egypt’s presidential office less than two weeks ago.
The 90-year-old has offered some of the most vocal support for Sisi since last July, when the then-army chief ousted the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Reuters news agency reported.
Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics, told Reuters that Abdullah’s trip indicated that Riyadh had put Egypt at the heart of a regional policy aimed at curbing Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran.
“Saudi Arabia is trying to basically build a wall of Sunni Arab states to deter Iranian influence in the Arab heartland,” he said.
“It feels that the Arab system of states is disintegrating; Iraq and Syria are in the grips of all-out war, the two non-Arab states Iran and Turkey are extending their influence,” he added.
“Egypt in the eyes of the Saudi leadership could play a major role in helping to create a deterrent Arab force.”
‘Leading Arab ally’
Through phone calls to Sisi, donations of cash and petroleum products and supportive statements, Abdullah has positioned himself as Sisi’s leading Arab ally.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, and its wealthy Gulf Arab partners Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have given more than $20bn to help Egypt since Morsi’s overthrow, Sisi said last month, and are likely to pledge more.
Less than 15 minutes after Sisi was officially declared president earlier this month, Abdullah issued warm congratulations and called for a donor conference to help Egypt “overcome its economic difficulties”.
He urged Egyptians to disown the “strange chaos” of the Arab uprisings, saying Egypt “needs us today more than ever”.
The monarch was the only foreign leader Sisi mentioned by name in his first speech as president, when he thanked the king for organising the funding conference.
It is Abdullah’s first visit to Cairo since the 2011 revolt that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was a key ally of Saudi Arabia and the United States.