By Mohyeddin Sajedi
The military council ruling Egypt has declared curfew in part of the capital city Cairo.
The Defense Ministry is located at al-Abbasiya district which has seen regular rallies in the past two weeks by people who ask the military to transfer power to civilian institutions. Unidentified assailants supporting the military council attacked the rally, leaving 12 people dead.
On Friday, May 4, the Army and security forces attacked and dispersed the demonstrators. To justify the attack, army officials claimed that the demonstrators aimed to occupy the building of the Defense Ministry.
Egyptian parties and groups have been divided on whether to support the rally. Some Salafi figures, whose presidential candidates had been disqualified, as well as the Egypt Revolutionary Youth Movement and the supporters of a presidential candidate as well as former and expelled leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood took part in the rally. The mainstream of the Muslim Brotherhood, certain Salafi groups and supporters of secular parties opposed it, insisting that the demonstrations should be only held at the Liberation Square.
The military council supports the second viewpoint and has announced that the power will be transferred after the presidential elections are held on May 23 and 24. Although the elections are close, they are still surrounded by ambiguities. For example, the new Egyptian constitution should be drafted and approved before the presidential polls, but the council responsible for that has not been established so far.
The military council has rejected charges by the opposition and echoed by the Egyptian press that it has supported former Arab League secretary-general, Amr Mousa, or is inclined toward Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under Egypt’s deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, from among the 13 presidential hopefuls. Some consider what happened in Cairo’s al-Abbasiya square as a small example of what may happen the day after the presidential polls in Egypt.
The power that the Egyptian military council believes to hold during the transitional power has not been conferred on it by the nation. The revolutionary youths and most of the Egyptian parties believe the power belongs to the revolution and the people, who have shown their resolve in the past elections for the People’s Assembly and Shura Council. The conflict between these two sources of power has led to the continuation of crisis in Egypt and has increased its complexity.
This is while the Saudi king has ordered his country’s Embassy to resume its activities in Cairo and the Saudi ambassador to return to Egypt. Saudi Arabia shut its Embassy, and all consulates, in Egypt last week after angry protesters attacked the building. The new crisis was sparked after an Egyptian was arrested in the Jeddah Airport. The Saudi security personnel had accused him of drug trafficking.
The arrest of the Egyptian by Saudi Arabia has shed light on the crisis in the relations between the two countries. The majority of the Egyptians are unhappy about the way the Saudi government has conducted itself after the January 25 revolution. The Saudi king made a lot of efforts to prevent the fall of former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak; people can still recall his phone conversations with US President Barack Obama, asking to keep Mubarak in power.
And after the revolution, the Saudi government put a lot of effort into preventing Mubarak from being tried. Some Egyptian officials even noted that Riyadh had offered a 10-billion-dollar aid package to Cairo in exchange for agreeing to allow Mubarak leave Egypt. Former Tunisian dictator Zein El Abidin Bin Ali has also taken refuge in Saudi Arabia.
After the US, Saudi Arabia is the biggest foreign investor in Egypt and the trade balance between the two countries reaches USD 4.5 billion. The severance of trade and diplomatic ties between Cairo and Riyadh would have affected the fate of around one million Egyptians, most of whom are working in Saudi Arabia.
Accordingly, a high-ranking Egyptian delegation comprising legislators, politicians, scholars and artists was dispatched to the Saudi capital of Riyadh in a bid to convince King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz to reverse his decision — an attempt which they finally succeeded in.
Nevertheless, the visit was met with scathing criticism at home and the Egyptian media likened its members to the representatives of the deposed authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak.
The relationship with Egypt is critically important to Saudi Arabia as the oil-rich Persian Gulf sheikhdom tries to maintain its influence on the North African nation through funding a number of Egyptian political blocs, particularly those supporting the Salafist ideology.
Any disruption in Riyadh’s ties with Cairo will inevitably affect Saudi Arabia’s role as the leader of the Arab world, and will turn the Arab public opinion against Saudi authorities.
The attention-grabbing point about the recent diplomatic row between Egypt and Saudi Arabia is Iran’s engagement in the crisis.
Saudi newspapers recently reported that the customs department personnel at Riyadh’s King Abdul Aziz International Airport have seized a suitcase full of narcotic pills, which was carried by Egyptian lawyer Ahmad Muhammad Tharwat Al-Sayed, known as Al-Jizawee. Local dailies alleged that the Iranians had asked the Egyptian lawyer to deliver the suitcase containing 21,380 pills of Xanax, which is a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and panic disorder, to someone in Jeddah.
In another case, Saudi media outlets claimed that an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Cairo, Ahmad Qattan, had been thwarted.
Egyptian officials dismissed the reports as baseless. However, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal blamed certain elements for the tension between Riyadh and Cairo.
The allegations bore hallmark to the alleged Iranian plot to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington in October 2011.
Claims of Tehran’s involvement in the plot to assassinate Saudi Arabian envoy Adel al-Jubeir, with the help of a suspected member of a Mexican drug cartel, later fell on deaf ears as the aspects of the immature scenario became clear.
Analysts believe Saudi Arabia is seriously worried about Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East, and tries to contain the Iranian clout in the region by means of anti-Iran bids and allegations of Tehran’s intervention in the domestic affairs of the Arab nations.
Mohyeddin Sajedi is a prominent Iranian political analyst, Mohyeddin Sajedi writes extensively on the Middle East issues. He also serves as a Middle East expert at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran.