As we wrote last month Saudi Arabia announced Egypt would not be receiving its subsidized oil shipments for October without specifying what, if anything, that meant for shipments for November and subsequent months.
Since then Egypt has explained it now understands the halt in oil supplies is indefinite.
The Saudi maneuver comes at an especially bad time for Egypt too as the country is facing plenty of financial woes as it is. Just last week the state was forced to abandon the untenable peg of the Egyptian pound to the dollar and cut fuel subsidies.
As bad as that is for Egypt’s finances it at least leaves Cairo with more room to pursue its own policy in Syria.
So far Egypt has stayed on the sidelines doing nothing to frustrate Saudi efforts to overthrow Syria’s Baathist system, even as these threatened to create a radical Islamist emirate in Egypt’s back yard.
Doubtlessly this is beginning to change now which is what caused the cracks in the relationship we are now seeing in the first place. The retired veteran Indian diplomat M.K. puts it this way:
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have been watching warily for some time Sisi’s ‘secularist’ peregrinations. But the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back appears to have been the visit two weeks ago by Syria’s chief of intelligence General Ali Mamluk to Cairo and the downstream signals that Egyptian military might be willing to wade into the Syrian conflict in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
According to SANA news agency, the two countries have “agreed to coordinate on political positions… and strengthen coordination on fighting the terrorism faced by both countries.” (Jerusalem Post)
Simultaneously, Egyptian diplomats have begun coordinating with their Russian counterparts in the UN Security Council with regard to resolutions on Syria. It stands to reason that Moscow has encouraged the nascent Egyptian-Syrian proximity.
Both Russia and Egypt see the need of a powerful regional coalition to fight terrorism in the Middle East. Of course, Russia also eyes Egypt as a potential regional ally, given the latter’s difficulties with the United States.
This isn’t terribly different from what Checkpoint Asia said last week but the really interesting part is that Bhadrakumar is confident that this is just the beginning and that the gulf between Cairo and Riyadh will only grow:
The Saudi-Egyptian realignment will not end here with Aramco cutting off oil supplies. This is a developing story and these are early days.
Other regional states cannot be impervious to the Egypt-Syria proximity, either — Israel, Turkey, Iran, GCC states, in particular — apart from the US and France and Britain. It is useful to remember that Egypt, Syria and Iraq have had dalliances with pan-Arabism in the past (which had also found favour with the former Soviet Union.)