Morsi enters the world stage with Saudi Arabia trip

The Egyptian leader said he chose Saudi Arabia for his first official visit because of the "deep rooted and historical relationship shared between the two countries".

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (right) and the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi met in Saudi Arabia this week and discussed regional issues and economic cooperation.
Powered by automated translation

Jeddah // On his first foreign trip as Egypt's president Mohammed Morsi praised King Abdullah, saying the Saudi king spoke with "wisdom and knowledge and love for the Egyptian people".

His trip to Saudi Arabia, undertaken in the US$275 million (Dh1bn) Airbus A340 aircraft Hosni Mubarak used, marked Egypt's return to the foreign arena, which it had largely disappeared from after last year's uprising that toppled the Mubarak regime.

Mr Morsi met the King Abdullah in Jeddah on Wednesday as both countries seek to mend ties that were strained by the political upheaval in Egypt last year.

The Egyptian leader said he chose Saudi Arabia for his first official visit because of the "deep rooted and historical relationship shared between the two countries".

"The stability of the region depends on the stability of Egypt and the Gulf, at the head of which stands Saudi Arabia," Mr Morsi said.

Our discussions were "fruitful and constructive and in the interest of Egypt, of Saudi Arabia and of the people of the region," Morsi told reporters in after the meeting. "Everything (King Abdullah) said was in the interest of the future, of the region and of Egypt," he said.

Under Mubarak, Egypt and Saudi Arabia had close relations but in April, Riyadh recalled its ambassador in Cairo and closed its embassy for several days after protests demanding the release of a lawyer and rights activist detained in the Kingdom.

Mohammed Kamel Amr, Egypt's foreign minister, told Egypt's state news agency Mena that "any progress in relations between the two countries is in the interest of the whole region". He added that Mr Morsi's visit would reflect positively on the economic ties between the two nations.

Egypt's economy is a priority for Mr Morsi. Growth has stalled and the Egyptian Central Bank has said it is within weeks of running out of cash for imports. Mena quoted a spokesman for Mr Morsi saying that Riyadh had agreed to increase its investment in the country.

Saudi Arabia has been the only country to lend money to Egypt since the uprising, pledging more than US$4bn in direct economic assistance in the last 16 months. In addition, Saudi Arabia is home to an estimated 1.7 million Egyptians whose remittances are crucial to Egypt's economy.

"Saudi Arabia and Egypt are like two wings [sustaining] the Arab countries," said Anwar Eshki, the chairman of the Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies and an adviser to Saudi's Cabinet of Ministers.

Mr Morsi's trip comes at a time of heightened tensions throughout the region. Syria, which was once party to a Saudi-Egyptian alliance, is now in crisis.

Riyadh has supported the opposition to the regime of Bashar Al Assad and has sought to isolate the country's strongest remaining regional ally, Iran. But Egypt has indicated that it may seek to reopen ties with Tehran.

"Saudi Arabia will try to make sure that there is no rapprochement between the new president of Egypt elected and the Iranian regime," said Omar Ashour, a Cairo-based fellow at the Brookings Institution. a think tank.

Mr Ashour said that Riyadh may also try to leverage its reaffirmed alliance to support the Syrian opposition. "Many of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood members in the opposition look to the Egyptians as their mentors or guides and Saudis will be attempting to exploit that."

This shifting regional landscape may help facilitate a reconciliation of historic ties between the Kingdom and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Morsi has emphasised several times, including in his inauguration speech, that the Brotherhood does not intend to export their revolution Yesterday he made a pilgrimage to Medina, according to the official SPA news agency. The Egyptian president's visit to the Kingdom begins a series of foreign trips, including his attendance at the summit of the African Union in Ethiopia next week.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse