Saudis give Egypt ‘blank cheque’ to fight Brotherhood


Saudi Arabia and several conservative Gulf Emirates have pledged to support Egypt’s interim authorities as they continue their crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.


Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates – with the notable exception of Qatar – remain unfazed by last week’s bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, events that left around 1,000 people dead and many more wounded.

These conservative monarchies have voiced their support for the country’s army since it deposed the democratically-elected Islamist leader on July 3 and are maintaining their promise of financial support for the interim authorities despite severe international misgivings, especially in the West.

The European Union and the United States are pondering cutting off their financial aid to Egypt. But the Authorities in Cairo have the luxury of a blank cheque from the Saudis who say they are prepared to make up the shortfall of any drop in Western cash.

This promise follows a commitment, made well before the brutal crackdown on pro-Morsi sit-in camps across Egypt, by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to give the interim authorities in Cairo two billion dollars.

Not having to rely on Western support gives the Egyptian authorities far more leeway in continuing its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

“If General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi [head of the Egyptian army] has a sense of impunity in his dealings with the Brotherhood, this is all down to the blank cheque given him by the Saudis and the Gulf Emirates [ with the exception of Qatar]," Karim Sader, a political scientist and consultant on the Gulf states, told FRANCE 24. “It could wholly substitute any aid withdrawn or frozen by the EU.”

Last week, Saudi King Abdullah voiced his personal support for Egypt’s interim authorities in its battle against “terrorism and foreign influences”.

“Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims should fight against all forces that want to undermine or destabilise the country,” Abdullah said. His foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal was even more explicit, laying full responsibility for the violence in Egypt on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.

"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," he said after his return from a meeting with French President François Hollande in Paris over the weekend.

Defeating the Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Arabic Islamist movement, is considered an existential threat to the social and political stability of the hereditary Gulf kingdoms.

Despite its religious fundamentalism, the Brotherhood is viewed there with extreme suspicion by Saudi Arabia, itself a deeply religious Muslim state, and the Gulf Emirates because of its political activism which has become marked since the Arab Spring revolutions.

“Terrified by the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt, the Gulf monarchies were quick to exploit the latest political crisis there,” said Sader. “They actively supported the military coup [to unseat Morsi] because they wanted to see a return to a semblance of the previous regime.”

According to Sader, their primary concern was that the Muslim Brotherhood, given legitimacy in last year’s elections that saw its candidate Morsi take power, would spread the Brotherhood’s influence into their own territory.

“Morsi’s fall was the opportunity for the House of Saud to cement its leadership in the Sunni Muslim world that was threatened by the Islamist movements, supported by Qatar and Turkey, that emerged in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions,” he said.

“There is a huge amount at stake in Egypt,” said Sader. “It is a test lab for the rest of the region. This is where it will be decided if the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is able to hold on to power, or if there will be a return of the former regime, which would be largely supported by the Saudis and the conservative Gulf emirates.”

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