Saudis Keep Aid Flowing to Egypt, Defying West ; Kingdom Sending Billions to New Government While Supporting Crackdown

By Nordland, Rod | International Herald Tribune, August 21, 2013 | Go to article overview

Saudis Keep Aid Flowing to Egypt, Defying West ; Kingdom Sending Billions to New Government While Supporting Crackdown


Nordland, Rod, International Herald Tribune


Saudi Arabia said Monday that it and its allies would make up any reduction in Western aid to Egypt as it continued to back the violent crackown on Islamists there.

CORRECTION APPENDED

Saudi Arabia has emerged as the foremost supporter of Egypt's military rulers, explicitly backing the violent crackdown on Islamists and using its oil wealth and diplomatic muscle to help defy growing pressure from the West to end the bloodshed in search of a political solution.

As Europeans and the United States considered cutting cash aid to Egypt, Saudi Arabia said Monday that it and its allies would make up any reduction -- effectively neutralizing the West's main leverage over Cairo. With Egypt's economy in free fall, the country's authorities might not have survived international outrage at a crackdown that has left as many as 1,000 dead and 4,000 wounded without the deep pockets of its Gulf allies.

In recent days, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has publicly condemned the Muslim Brotherhood, sent field hospitals to Egypt and in rare public comments vowed continued support. The foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, traveled to Europe, where he pushed back against efforts to punish Egypt's rulers. And Saudi Arabia delivered a blank check to Cairo, promising to shower it with money as needed.

"The kingdom stands with Egypt and against all those who try to interfere with its domestic affairs," King Abdullah said Friday in a televised speech.

Saudi Arabia, which itself is a close ally of Washington, has not only undermined Western efforts to press for compromise but has also revealed diminished U.S. influence across the Arab world. The United States and Europe have been unable to convince Cairo -- or to persuade Riyadh to press the generals toward moderation.

The Saudis, though, are not alone in this. Two other U.S. allies, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, have also supported the Egyptian military and sought to push back against Western entreaties that it temper its actions against the Brotherhood and the ousted government of President Mohamed Morsi and his supporters.

Saudi Arabia, which historically preferred to work its checkbook diplomacy from behind the scenes, jumped at the chance to help reverse a revolution that it opposed from the start.

The Saudis complained bitterly when President Hosni Mubarak, a longtime ally, was forced from power, and even more bitterly when the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as Egypt's primary political force. And its leaders may have been comfortable with Gen. Abdul-Fattah el- Sisi, who had served as the Egyptian government's military attache in Riyadh, according to the general's official biography on the Egyptian military's Web site.

"The Saudi monarchy is absolutely afraid of an Islamist-based democracy movement," said Amanda E. Rogers, a lecturer in Arabic at Emory University in Atlanta and contributor to Muftah, a blog about the Middle East and North Africa.

The Saudis have long wielded their great wealth in regional causes. But even by Saudi standards, their efforts in Egypt stand out. Within a week of the Egyptian military's July 3 takeover, they had announced a $12 billion rescue package that dwarfs direct military and economic grants from the United States ($1.5 billion) and the European Union ($1.3 billion) combined. The Gulf Arabs' deep pockets made the U.S. contribution seem important largely for its symbolism.

Within hours of the king's speech on Friday, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal, was on his way to Paris, where he said the French president, Francois Hollande, supported the Egyptian generals' road map. That seemed to contradict the statements of other European countries condemning the new government for failing to control the violence.

Back in Saudi Arabia by Monday, the prince boasted that France had come around to his country's point of view because of "truths and not assumptions. …

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