Saudis Warn the West: We Won’t Forget Your Stance on Egypt

Patrick Goodenough | August 20, 2013 | 4:17am EDT
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Secretary of State John Kerry is greeted by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal l in Jeddah on Tuesday, June 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

( – In a blunt warning to countries critical of the Egyptian military crackdown and considering suspending aid, longstanding U.S. ally Saudi Arabia suggested that the decisions they make now will have long-term consequences for their relationships in the Arab and Muslim world.

Saudi Arabia has led the way in supporting the Egyptian military’s actions, first in removing the Muslim Brotherhood administration early last month and in its subsequent steps against supporters of the ousted Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi.

Its warning came as policymakers in the U.S. and Europe mull the question of continuing financial assistance to Cairo following the violence in recent days, in which more than 1,000 people have been killed in clashes between security forces and Morsi supporters.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal issued a lengthy statement Monday defending the military’s actions and informing countries that have threatened to withdraw aid that Arab and Muslim countries “will not hesitate to help Egypt.”

“As you [Western countries] enjoy security, calm and stability, do not consider them as too much for us.”

Faisal drew comparisons to the situation in Syria, implying that some of the same governments that are condemning the military in Egypt are not taking firmer action in support of those trying to topple the Assad regime. Saudi Arabia is a key supporter of the anti-Assad opposition.

“Regrettably, we see that the international position towards the current events in Egypt is contrary to their attitudes towards the events in Syria,” he said. “Where is the concern for human rights and the sanctity of blood and carnage that takes place every day in Syria which led to the killing of more than one hundred thousand Syrians and destruction of whole Syria without hearing whispering from the international community […?]”

In the statement, released through the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Faisal said such attitudes “will not be forgotten by Arab and Muslim world.”

Those who condemn the Egyptian crackdown and believe “flimsy propaganda” will not be viewed as acting in good faith or out of ignorance, “but we will consider them as hostile attitudes against the interests of the Arab and Islamic nations and their stability.”

“Let those states that are taking negative stances know that the blaze and destruction will not be confined to Egypt, but will affect all those who supported trouble,” he said.

Asked at a press briefing Monday whether the Obama administration thought Faisal was referring to the United States in his comments, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she could not “speculate on that.”

“Obviously, every country makes their own decision about whether they’re going to continue to provide aid, what aid they will provide, and we’ve certainly seen that,” she said.

“We’ll make our own decisions here, based on our own national security interests, our own concerns about regional stability. And that review is ongoing.”

‘Fanning the fire of sedition’

Riyadh’s outspoken support for the military’s actions reflect its deep-rooted antipathy for the Muslim Brotherhood, a sentiment shared with the other Gulf states – with the notable exception of Qatar.

The unelected Gulf regimes – which apart from Bahrain largely avoided “Arab spring”-type protests over the past two years – watched in dismay as the post-Mubarak transition in Egypt brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. Late last year the United Arab Emirates (UAE) arrested 11 Egyptians accused of setting up a Muslim Brotherhood cell with the aim of toppling its government.

Saudi King Abdullah was the first to congratulate the Egyptian military for ousting Morsi on July 3, saying it had “managed to save Egypt at this critical moment from a dark tunnel.”

Between them, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE quickly pledged a total of $12 billion to the military-installed interim government – eclipsing the $1.5 billion in military and other assistance Egypt receives from the U.S. each year.

After last week’s bloodshed in Cairo, Abdullah issued a strong-worded statement of support for the interim government and military’s fight “against terrorism.”

“The people and government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stood and still stand today with our brothers in Egypt against terrorism, extremism and sedition, and against whoever is trying to interfere in Egypt's internal affairs and in its determination, power and legitimate right to deter every spoiler or whoever misleads the people of Egypt,” the king said.

“Let it be known to those who interfered in Egypt’s internal affairs that they themselves are fanning the fire of sedition and are promoting the terrorism which they call for fighting.”

SPA reports that Egyptian army chief Gen. Abdul Fattah El-Sisi phone Faisal on Monday thanked Saudi Arabia for its support, saying it would not be forgotten.

Other Gulf states also voiced support for the authorities in Cairo during the recent turmoil – again with the exception of Qatar, which since July 3 has repeatedly voiced support for the ousted president and condemned the armed forces’ raid last Wednesday on the pro-Morsi protest camps that resulted in so many deaths.

Long supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood (and its branches in Syria and Gaza, i.e. Hamas), the small, petroleum-rich state pledged billions of dollars in aid to Egypt following the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak and as the Muslim Brotherhood strengthened its grip on the country.

Scrambling to adjust to the new reality, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Attiya said on Sunday his country had never given aid to the Muslim Brotherhood per se, but to Egypt as a whole.

“Qatar has never given aid to an Egyptian group or an Egyptian political party,” he told journalists in Paris after talks with his French counterpart. “The aid has always been provided to Egypt.”

Writing in the influential pan-Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat this week, Al-Arabiya television general manager Abdulrahman al-Rashed said Gulf state like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE were aware of the risks of chaos in Egypt.

“These Gulf countries think that pushing Egypt towards chaos means a threat of turning the country into another collapsed state, like Libya and Syria. Egypt’s failure means a threat to the entire Middle East and the region will not stabilize for many decades,” he wrote.

As for Qatar, al-Rashed said its stance was hard to fathom, but predicted that it would eventually be forced to deal with the new regime in Cairo, “because Egypt is an influential country that no Arab state can ignore or build an enmity with.”

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