El-Sisi and Salman at Cross Purposes after First Encounter
When Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi returned home from his short, sharp interview on March 1 with the new Saudi monarch, King Salman, he was forced to conclude that his journey to Riyadh was not just a waste of time, but confirmed his worst fears about their relations.
DEBKA Weekly’s Gulf sources report that, for every request the Egyptian ruler made, the king snapped back with a handful of provisos.
El-Sisi spent just four fruitless hours in the Saudi capital before flying out.
The Saudi ruler confronted him with six tall orders as conditions for continuing the generous economic assistance his predecessor King Abdullah had pledged Egypt’s El-Sisi regime:
1. Cairo must desist from attacking Libya and, specifically, call off the plan, in association with former Qaddafi general Khalifa Hifter, to capture Darnah, which has become the stronghold of the Islamic State, its allies and other militias.
(See debkafile article of Feb. 27).
Salman accused his Egyptian guest of plotting to use Darnah as stepping-stone for the conquest of the entire eastern Libyan province of Cyrenaica and its oilfields.
He demanded that El-Sisi break off Cairo’s intelligence interchanges with Tunisia and Algeria on coordinating the Libya operation.
2. As DEBKA Weekly reported last week, the Saudi King said El-Sisi must withdraw from his ties with Syria’s Bashar Assad, including clandestine meetings between their intelligence officials.
El-Sisi ordered to mend fences with Qatari and Turkish rulers
3. Salman did not refer directly to the Egyptian ruler’s proposed pan-Arab force to combat Islamic terror – especially ISIS. But he made it obvious that Riyadh has no wish to see Egyptian troops in Yemen (see separate item in this issue), Iraq or any of the Gulf emirates.
4. President El-Sisi must mend his fences with the Emir of Qatar Tamim El-Thani.
5. And he must bury his quarrel with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Salman refused to listen to the Egyptian ruler’s complaints that Turkey was dabbling in Libyan affairs and stirring up animosities there by arming various militias.
El-Sisi gave the Saudi monarch no promises on either of these demands. But on his return home, he did take some steps: He had the state prosecutor present new documents to the Cairo Court for Urgent Affairs Monday, with the result that the judges adjourned until April 6 their hearings on two lawsuits which called for Qatar and Turkey to be designated “state sponsors of terrorism.”
The lawsuits accused Qatar and Turkey of “supporting crimes committed on Egyptian soil and” hosting hostile satellite channels” which broadcast incitements to murdering Egyptian police officers.
Cairo announced, furthermore, that the sea and land transit transportation accord for roll-on/roll-off ships from Turkey would not be renewed. However, the date for its renewal comes up on April 23.
No let-up in pursuit of Brotherhood, Hamas, Libyan Islamists
Turkish exports were badly hit by the closing of its border gate with Syria, making the route for Ro-Ro ships between Turkey’s Mersin port and Egypt an important alternative route for transporting goods between Turkey and Egypt and Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Its closure would inflict a second serious blow to Turkish exports.
But, up until April, El-Sisi will have enough breathing space to review both the lawsuits and the transportation accord with Turkey, and decide whether or not to meet the Saudi king’s provisos..
6. But his relentless persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian offshoot Hamas was another matter. Salman did not ask him to call off those crackdowns altogether, only for some let-up. But El-Sisi stood his ground and refused to relent in the pursuit of his arch-foes.
Saturday, Feb. 28, the day before the president’s Riyadh trip, an Egyptian court dealt harshly with the Brotherhood and Hamas. Top Muslim Brotherhood leaders were sentenced to life in prison. Among them were the General Guide Mohammad Badie, his deputy, Khairat al-Shater, reputedly the most pro-American figure in the Brotherhood’s leadership, a former lawmaker Mohammad el-Beltagy, party head Saad el-Katatni and his deputy Essam el-Erian.
Will try to maneuver among differences at Riyadh court
At the same sitting, the Cairo court ruled the Palestinian Hamas a terrorist organization, expanding a previous decision that applied only to its armed wing. The evidence put before the court included recordings of Hamas leaders congratulating one another on the successful attacks they had launched with the Sinai Al Qaeda affiliate on Egyptian security personnel.
El-Sisi was just as unrelenting in his plans for Libya. He lost no time in leaking a story to Egyptian news media that confirmed the revelation in the last DEBKA Weekly issue that he had prepared his army for war on Islamist terrorists in Libya and Sinai. One of its features would be air strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.
Our Gulf sources disclose that the Egyptian president estimates that the Saudi royal court is divided on some major issues, with King Salman, his son, Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, at odds on policy.
El-Sisi sees the differences of approach in Riyadh as giving him time to go forward with his plans.