Saudi King Arrives in Egypt to Official Fanfare, High Hopes

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Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 9:35 PM

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi greeted King Salman with a kiss as the monarch descended from his jumbo jet on an escalator, flanked by lancers and dozens of Saudi and Egyptian officials.

Egypt welcomed Saudi Arabia'south monarch on a landmark visit to the Arab world'south most populous country on Thursday, with Cairo seeking to boost ties and garner deals to prop up the nation'south shaky economy despite some persistent divisions with the Sunni powerhouse.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi greeted King Salman with a kiss as the monarch descended from his jumbo jet on an escalator, flanked by lancers and dozens of Saudi and Egyptian officials. Two children in Saudi dress were held up to the king, who later headed to the presidential palace for a troop review kicked off with howitzer fire.

Behind the scenes, Salman is likely to press Egypt for concrete support for the king'south attempts to contain Shiite nemesis Iran and contribute more to further Saudi foreign policy goals. Despite Riyadh'south major support for Egypt below el-Sissi, Cairo has done tiny in return.

Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, said the Saudis have clearly grown impatient with Cairo, which has made only feeble contributions to the Saudi-led offensive against Shiite rebels in Yemen and has refused to demand Syrian President Bashar Assad step down. Egypt is simultaneously cultivating closer ties with Russia, a major backer of Assad.

"We look the el-Sissi regime as going rogue," Hamid said. "It shows a certain, you can declare confidence, over-confidence, recklessness, but that'south not normally what you'd expect in this sort of relationship, considering how necessary the Saudis have been as a source of support."

El-Sissi'south office stressed the importance of Salman'south visit, his first to Egypt since ascending to the throne latest year, insisting that the two countries should expand cooperation in order to strengthen security in the turbulent Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is one of the top foreign investors in Egypt, with more than $8 billion pledged late latest year in sectors such as tourism, agriculture and information technology. The oil-rich kingdom has also promised to assistance the country meet its energy needs.

Riyadh has helped bankroll el-Sissi'south government since the Egyptian leader — then army chief — ousted a divisive Islamist predecessor, Mohammed Morsi, in two thousand-thirteenth, giving billions of dollars in aid, grants and cash deposits to assistance buoy the country'south economy. Egypt has faced years of political upheaval since a two thousand eleven pro-democracy uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak sent foreign reserves tumbling and slowed economic growth, and has grown dependent on the aid, although it says it seeks to wean itself off it.

While the two Arab nations are at odds over the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, public admonishments are scarce and they seem never to tire from extolling what they call their historic relations, strategic partnership and common goals.

Saudi columnist Khalid al-Dakhil urged Cairo to reject "sectarian militias" that menace Arab states — a reference to Iranian-backed Shiite militias such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, which Saudi Arabia recently declared a terrorist group. He also called for stronger opposition to Iran.

However, a tiny gesture from Cairo came on Wednesday, when Egyptian satellite company NileSat stopped broadcasting the Hezbollah'south TV Sta in Lebanon, saying that it "provokes sectarian strife." The Al-Manar TV, which is openly pro-Iranian, can still be seen via other senders.

Egypt'south Foreign Ministry also took aim at Tehran, condemning it for reported arms shipments to Yemen'south Shiite rebels in recent weeks, and saying it "undermined aspirations to restore confidence between Iran and its neighbors."

Salman will also likely thrust el-Sissi to create overtures to Turkey and Qatar, countries Egypt has kept at a distance over their support for Morsi'south Muslim Brotherhood group, which Egypt banned in two thousand-thirteenth and declared a terrorist organization.

While the kingdom has number like for the Brotherhood, it initially encouraged el-Sissi'south crackdown on Islamists that saw hundreds killed and thousands jailed, and presently sees the grouping as a lesser threat, compared to Iran'south expanding influence.

"On the Saudi side, there'south a realization that as problematic as the Brotherhood may be from their perspective, it shouldn't necessarily be a defining element of their bilateral relationships with Turkey and Qatar, particularly with Iran'south growing influence in the region," said Hamid, from the Brookings Institute.

Salman and el-Sissi are expected to sign a deal to allow Egypt with $twenty billion worth of oil products over five years, and another for Saudi investment of $1.5 billion in Egypt'south volatile Sinai Peninsula, where an Islamic State affiliate has established a foothold.

More than 20 other agreements and memoranda of understanding will also be signed, in fields such as education, fighting graft, shipping and broadcast, according to Egypt'south Ministry of International Cooperation.

During Salman'south five-day visit, the two countries will also discuss further developing military cooperation and other issues.

———

Batrawy contributed from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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