Egypt’s El Sisi stands with Gulf amid Iran tensions

The leader of the most populous Arab state stands with traditional allies, but looks to avoid a conflict

epa07572472 Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) attends the opening of the Rawd Al-Faraj bridge in Shobra district, Cairo, Egypt, 15 May l 2019. According to reports, Egypt requested to register the construction as the world's widest suspension bridge on the Guinness World Records. The length of the bridge is 720 meters and 14 meters above the level of the River Nile to facilitate the riverine movement. The suspension bridge is located within the third phase of the Rawd Al-Faraj axis, starts from Al-Khalafawi Square on the Corniche of the Nile in front of the Aghakhan Towers opposite the Nile on Al-Warraq Island passing through Bashteel area.  EPA/KHALED ELFIQI
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Egypt has renewed its commitment to the security of its allies in the Gulf region, with its president saying "current challenges" necessitated close cooperation in the face of threats.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi's comments were made during a late Saturday meeting with Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the country. The envoy handed the Egyptian leader an invitation to attend a summit meeting of the Organization of Islamic Co-operation in Makkah later this month.

Saudi Arabia on Sunday also announced an emergency summit of Gulf and Arab nations scheduled for May 30 to discuss recent attacks on oil installations in the kingdom and commercial ships off the coast of the UAE.

The link made by Mr El Sisi between Egypt's security and the Gulf's is nothing new – the Egyptian leader has often repeated it since taking office in 2014. But it takes added significance in view of the US military buildup in the Gulf region and rising tensions between Washington and its Arab allies on one side and non-Arab and mostly Shiite Iran on the other.

Saudi Arabia, a staunch US ally and a harsh critic of Iran's regional policies, said last week that two of its oil pumping stations were hit by armed drones that it suspected were launched by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Riyadh also said that two of its oil tankers were targeted in a "sabotage attack" off the coast of the UAE on May 12, an incident that the Emirates says it is investigating with help from international partners.

Saturday's meeting with the Saudi ambassador followed talks last week in Cairo between Mr El Sisi and Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE armed forces.

Egypt maintains close relations with Gulf heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The two Gulf nations have, over the past six years, come to the aid of Egypt by providing the most populous Arab nation with billions of dollars-worth of aid and financial assistance to keep its economy afloat. The two are also among the biggest investors in Egypt, whose economy is slowly recovering after years of political turmoil and violence following a 2011 popular uprising.

The militaries of the three have been routinely staging joint war games to better improve battlefield coordination. Egypt is also a member of the Arab coalition fighting Yemen's Zaidi rebels, but its contribution to the war effort there is believed to be mostly restricted to the deployment of warships in the southern reaches of the Red Sea, surveillance and intelligence gathering.

Significantly, Egypt has been engaged in an arms buildup of its own in recent years, spending billions of dollars on warships, jet fighters, submarines, helicopter gunships and naval troop carriers.

With the largest standing army in the MENA, Mr El Sisi has repeatedly stated his opposition to another war in the region, arguing that after nearly a decade of turmoil the Middle East desperately needs stability and development.

Without mentioning Iran by name, Egypt has repeatedly criticised the Islamic Republic for meddling in the domestic affairs of Arab nations and accused it of seeking to expand its regional influence.

It has meanwhile steered well clear from using sectarian Sunni-Shiite rhetoric in regard to Iran, with which it is believed to have maintained channels of communications, along with some of Tehran's proxies like Lebanon's Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthi rebels.