Egypt and Persian Gulf Arab States: The Problem of Distrust

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ali Akbar Asadi
PhD Candidate, University of Allameh Tabatabaei & Expert on Middle East Issues

The popular uprising of Egypt in 2001 which led to the overthrow of the country’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak and turned a new page in the political life of the Arab country, has not only changed domestic political components of Egypt, but also had profound effects on its foreign policy and relations. With the rise of Mohamed Morsi to power which practically enabled the Muslim Brotherhood to be at the helm of the power pyramid, new political components have been introduced into Egypt’s foreign relations, which have especially touched the country’s relations with the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. While relations between Egypt under Mubarak with the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] were quite warm and cordial, there have been doubts and conflicts in those relations, despite their continuation, under the new government. The doubts and conflicts came to the surface from the very beginning of the popular uprisings in the region due to negative positions taken by countries like Saudi Arabia on those uprisings. The aftermath of those negative stances has continued up to the present time, though in different shapes and dimensions. Under the present circumstances, Egypt and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf seek continuation of old relations though from different viewpoints. However, this common objective has not been able to do away with the aforesaid doubts and conflicts. It has especially failed to put an end to the problem of distrust which is currently governing relations between Egypt and most Arab states along the southern rim of the Persian Gulf.

The post-Mubarak Egypt has been suffering from political instability as well as serious economic problems and the new government has a long way to go before it would be able to totally meet its people’s political and economic demands. Therefore, on the one hand, the incumbent President Mohamed Morsi has been trying to maintain good relations and build confidence with the Arab states of the Persian Gulf to prevent political opposition of those states with the new political situation and trends in Egypt. On the other hand, Cairo has been trying to alleviate the economic challenges it is facing by attracting funds and financial aid as well as economic investments from the rich Arab states of the Persian Gulf. This issue is quite important to the Egyptian government because millions of Egyptian workers are currently employed in the Persian Gulf countries. Also of high importance is the investment made by those countries in Egypt’s infrastructures, including in tourism industry, which plays a major role in the country’s economic growth. If the Persian Gulf Arab states actually decided to discontinue such measures with regard to Egypt, the government of Morsi would be facing a formidable economic challenge. On the other hand, although Arab countries of the Persian Gulf are dissatisfied with the new political trends in Egypt, they still have to continue their relations with Cairo in order to prevent Egypt from getting too close to their regional rivals like Iran, or to lend support to revolutionary developments and opposition movements in the Persian Gulf Arab states. As a result, they don’t want Morsi to lose hope in these countries. Of course, Qatar has adopted a different position compared to other Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Doha has offered more serious support for the government of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as it wants to see the success of that government in the Arab country which is a focal point of politics in the Arab world. Positions taken on new Egyptian government by such countries as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are, however, have been totally different from pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance of Qatar as they are very suspicious toward the political current that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is representing.

There is no doubt that both Egypt and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf need to maintain and continue bilateral relations. However, there are also mutual suspicions and doubts between the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood which has given birth to a democratic government through a popular revolution, on the one hand, and the leaders of the Persian Gulf states whose governments are traditional and non-popular, on the other hand. Such a state of affairs has worsened the problem of distrust in relations and has caused the distrust to emerge as a stumbling block on the way of further strengthening of relations between Cairo and most capital cities of the Arab states in the Persian Gulf. On the one hand, the Arab leaders have made no effort to hide their concern about and opposition to the dissemination of the Egypt’s revolutionary waves into the Persian Gulf and Cairo’s support for political currents affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood in the region. Of special significance has been the reactions shown by various officials of the United Arab Emirates to the perceived threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood and the need to stymie their every move. On the other hand, Cairo and other revolutionary currents in Egypt are well aware of the anti-revolutionary approach taken by the Persian Gulf littoral states. They are even aware of the efforts made by these states to prevent further success of the popular model of Egypt by facing it with serious challenges. Therefore, despite few cases in which they have tried to overlook the existing differences as a result of transient expediencies, revolutionary currents in Egypt are aware of conflicts and fundamental differences which exist between the two sides. In fact, although bilateral relations between Egypt and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf have been maintained on the basis of the existing expediencies and certain objective realties, there exists some sort of bilateral awareness of fundamental conflicts and differences. Such an awareness combined with the possible outlook of further deepening of the existing problems and challenges perceived by either side of this equation has caused relations between Cairo and the Arab regimes of the Persian Gulf to be marked with growing distrust.

Although the relations between Morsi's Egypt and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf have been marked with the exchange of official trips as well as political meetings and even economic agreements and aid, which result from the existing expediencies and needs of the two sides of these relations, one important point should not be ignored here. If the remarkable distrust which emanates from mutual doubts and suspicions as well as fundamental differences, is exacerbated in medium or long term, or lead to new problems between the two sides, its consequence would be nothing but further lack of trust in these relations. The final outcome of this process is clear: the distrust will gradually emerge as a serious barrier and a psychological factor which would prevent interactions between Cairo and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf to go on without bumps and bruises. The root cause of this problem is that either side of this equation (Egypt and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf) belongs to two different and even conflicting revolutionary and anti-revolutionary (or at least non-revolutionary) fronts in the new regional order of the Middle East.

Key Words: Egypt, Persian Gulf Arab States, Political Instability, Economic Problems, Muslim Brotherhood, Asadi 

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