Egypt's Morsi to visit Saudi Arabia in bid for aid

Saudi Arabia has been the only country to lend money to Egypt since the uprising began as it awaits a decision on a $3.2 billion (Dh11.7bn) loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

An Egyptian military officer salutes president Mohammed Morsi, third from right, at a military graduation ceremony in Cairo.
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CAIRO // Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi, is expected to visit Saudi Arabia today in his first foreign trip as head of state, in recognition of the kingdom's long relationship with Egypt and its financial support during the instability following the country's uprising.

Egypt has struggled to secure aid from foreign donors. It spent much of its foreign currency reserves propping up the domestic currency since the beginning of the uprising that forced the country's former president, Hosni Mubarak, to resign early last year.

Tourism revenues have dropped precipitously and foreign companies have cut back their investments in Egypt.

"Egypt is in desperate need of support," said Abdallah Al Ashaal, a former diplomat in Egypt's foreign affairs ministry and law professor at the American University in Cairo. "This is, in a major way, a trip tailored to the needs of the Egyptian economy."

Saudi Arabia has been the only country to lend money to Egypt since the uprising began as it awaits a decision on a $3.2 billion (Dh11.7bn) loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF loan, which is still under negotiation, would also provide a seal of approval for Egypt's economic plans. Many donors have been waiting for Egypt to secure the IMF loan before agreeing to send aid.

Last year after the uprising, Saudi Arabia pledged $4bn in aid to Egypt in the form of long-term loans and grants - money that Mr Moris needs to help shore up Egypt's struggling economy.

Saudi Arabia has offered $1bn to Egypt's Central Bank after election results were announced and another $500 million for general economic assistance. The kingdom also allocated $250m for gas exports to Egypt, Saudi Ambassador Ahmed Kattan was quoted by Mena, the official news agency, as saying.

Mr Al Ashaal said the new president would also attempt to assuage fears in the Saudi Arabian monarchy that the Muslim Brotherhood would not try to "export the revolution" beyond its borders. Gulf leaders have been wary over the last 18 months of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups attempting to unsettle governments across the Mena region.

"He'll want to pacify them and clarify that some of the rumours that have circulated aren't true," Mr Al Ashaal said. "Saudi Arabia would be happy if Mr Morsi confirms that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the main pillars of the region and of the same mind."

Mr Morsi's foreign policy agenda has not been fully disclosed, though he has said he would maintain existing treaties and seek to adjust relationships to put them on equal standing. This was seen as a veiled reference to the United States, which has held strong sway over Egypt through $1.3 billion of military aid and close ties to the former president.

Mr Morsi has not announced his foreign minister or any other cabinet appointments. Further complicating any foreign policy agenda is the fact that many of the most sensitive files for foreign relations, such as Israel and the Palestinian territories, were placed under the purview of the intelligence agencies under Mubarak.

Mr Morsi has little sway with the country's intelligence agencies and analysts believe he will not have the power to appoint a new head of the General Intelligence Services because the Supreme Council of Armed Forces has kept control over national security.

Some Muslim Brotherhood analysts have predicted that Egypt, under Mr Morsi, would try to cement closer ties with regional countries to prove that Egypt is not entirely reliant on the West. The US is Egypt's top trade partner and Mubarak aligned himself with American policies in the region, particularly around the issue of Islamic extremism.

"In order to prove to their support base that they are not reliant on western support, they will try to reorient the country towards the Gulf for investment and tourism," said Alison Pargeter, the author of The Muslim Brotherhood: The Burden of Tradition, in 2010.

Mr Morsi's visit follows more than a year of tensions between the two countries, highlighted by the arrest of an Egyptian lawyer Saudi Arabia in April. The charges of drug smuggling against Ahmed Al Gizawy in Jeddah led to protests outside Saudi Arabia's embassy in Cairo and a consulate in Suez, prompting Saudi Arabia to withdraw its ambassador. He returned a week later.

Mr Al Gizawy, a human-rights activist, had been a critic of the treatment of Egyptians in Saudi Arabia. He had filed a law suit against the Saudi government, alleging "detention and torture" of Egyptians. He has denied the charges and is awaiting trial.

Mr Morsi said he would arrive in Jeddah today, where he would perform Umrah and meet King Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Egypt, Ahmed Qattan, said they would discuss future investments in Egypt and political ties. "Relations between the two countries could not be confined to only economic cooperation. They are far more than that," said Mr Qattant.


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