Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) welcomes Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia April 23, 2017. (Reuters photo)
CAIRO, May 5 (Xinhua) -- Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has recently paid state visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to refresh ties with the leading Gulf allies amid regional disorder in several Arab states including Syria, Libya and Yemen.
TIES AMID CHAOS
Ties between Egypt and Saudi Arabia have gone through ups and downs over the past year, mostly because of their different views on some regional issues particularly the situations in Syria and Yemen.
While Saudi Arabia seeks removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Egypt sees that a political settlement in Syria is the best option. Egypt is not so much involved in the Saudi-led military campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen but its naval forces is still protecting Red Sea's Bab al-Mandab Strait to maintain national security.
"Sisi's tour came in the framework of continuous consultation between Egypt and the UAE on strategic issues. He may have also updated Emirati leaders with the progress in Egypt's relations with Saudi Arabia and the differences they have overcome," said Motaz Salama, researcher and head of the Gulf Studies Unit at Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
According to Salama, the structure of Egypt-Gulf ties is strong despite some hardships, noting that "the future of Arab national security" is one of the focal topics of discussion during Sisi's visits.
"The Egyptian-Gulf approach is considered the general umbrella of Arab relations, as it reflects the general conditions of inter-Arab ties," he said.
Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University, believes that there is improvement in the Egyptian-Saudi relations but their differences have not yet been all cleared for natural strategic ties.
"So, Abu Dhabi's active role at this stage is important," he told Xinhua.
Sisi's visit to the UAE aims at boosting mutual cooperation and coordination over the challenges facing the Arab nation "with the purpose of enhancing joint Arab work and protecting the Arab national security," according to the Egyptian official news agency MENA.
Since Sisi led the ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 with the support of his Gulf allies excluding Qatar, Cairo's relations with Doha have been on edge particularly as the latter hosted fleeing members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group, which has eventually been designated by Sisi government as a terrorist organization.
"I do not rule out the possibility that the UAE attempts to play a role in bringing Egypt and Saudi Arabia closer on the one hand and in fixing ties between Egypt and Qatar on the other hand, especially amid such overwhelming regional chaos," Nafaa told Xinhua.
While Egypt seeks a settlement in chaotic neighboring Libya to maintain the security of the Egyptian western border areas amid growing terrorism and security challenges, the UAE has recently hosted a rare meeting between Libyan national army chief Khalifa Haftar and head of Libya's unity government Fayez Serraj, the two key rival figures in the country.
"I believe that Abu Dhabi tries to play a role in some key Arab issues and it was not a coincidence that it hosted such a high-profile Libyan meeting, which is an important development because the Libyan issue is extremely important to Egypt," Nafaa pointed out.
The leading Gulf states are undoubtedly concerned about any possible future interaction between Egypt and Iran in case of awkward relations between Cairo and Riyadh.
After Saudi Arabia led Gulf support for Sisi's post-Morsi administration with billions of U.S. dollars and tons of oil supplies, Aramco, a Saudi national oil company, resumed in early April its delivery of oil shipments to Egypt after six months of suspension.
"Gulf support is very important and essential for Egypt to face the current challenges including terrorism and general economic conditions. Emirati and Saudi support for Egypt have not stopped in the first place," said Salama of Al-Ahram Center.
"I believe there is a development in the Egyptian understanding of the concerns of Gulf states over Iranian regional expansion that poses a threat to their political stability. This is a positive aspect in the Egyptian-Gulf ties," he said.
For his part, Nafaa argues that the Gulf states care about keeping Egypt away from Iran, noting there is now some understanding between Egypt and Saudi Arabia because of the active Emirati role to overcome their differences.
"This will surely keep the distance between Egypt and Iran or at least prevent their approach that was apparent on the horizon," the professor explained.
Nafaa said Donald Trump's election to the White House boost interaction between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the U.S. president must have urged both to overcome their rift amid his effort to integrate Israel in the region and achieve an Israeli-Saudi closeness to face Iran.
The professor sees that the United States seeks an Egyptian-Saudi approach and even an Egyptian-Turkish approach to establish a Muslim Sunni axis supported by Israel in confrontation of Iran, but he said it would not be that easy given the complicated situation in the Middle East.
"I believe that the developments in Syria will be the basic indicator of what the regional events will be like in the near future," Nafaa told Xinhua.