Gulf states are the Arab nation’s backbone
I cannot help thinking there is an architect with a plan to weaken Egypt and create distance between Egyptians and the peoples of the Arabian Gulf. I fear this plot is working and, if we are not careful, will soon near completion. I can only speculate on who or what is the maestro covertly pulling strings.
The volume must be turned down on disagreements between Cairo and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) before a parting of ways — and that would be a tragedy of historic proportions, spelling an end to the already-splintered Arab world.
The GCC would emerge virtually unscathed due to its economic and military prowess. The same cannot be said of Egypt, responsible for a population of 100 million and growing, whose basic needs are putting pressure on the country’s fragile economy. Egypt should refrain from taking steps that would alienate itself from its true friends in the GCC.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President-elect Donald Trump are self-interested, fair-weather friends. Neither side officially admits there is a rift, but we cannot pretend there has not been a cooling of relations since those heady days when Emirati singer Hussain Al-Jassmi’s “Boshret Kheir” — celebrating the Egyptian people — dominated the airwaves, and Gulf leaderships willingly donated to assist Egypt through a hard patch, purely motivated by brotherly love for the country, described by the late Saudi King Abdullah as “too big to fail.”
No doubt there are certain policy differences, notably with respect to Syria, and it is true that Egypt and the Gulf states have different priorities regarding existential threats. Cairo’s prime battle is against terrorism and extremist ideologies, whereas the GCC puts Iran and its proxies at the top of its list of dangerous adversaries, and rightly so.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s promised return of Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanifir to Saudi Arabia, delayed due to public protests and legal challenges, is another sensitive issue. However, it is reassuring to know that both Egypt’s Cabinet and Parliament have signed off on the handover.
Those differences, which have sprung from disparate circumstances, should not be permitted to drive us apart when we have so many other common interests and a long history of brotherhood and mutual respect.
GCC nationals have always been made welcome in Egypt. I have visited on several occasions in recent years and always feel perfectly at home, breaking bread with dear old friends I have known since the 1970s, some of whom are just as concerned about the souring atmosphere as I am. They are distressed, helplessly witnessing the deteriorating relationship between our respective countries, which seemed to happen overnight.
There are no bad feelings at a people-to-people level, although that is no thanks to certain elements of the media that have been irresponsibly attempting to stir up animosity rather than working to heal perceived slights. Columnists have been harping on about dents to national pride, and chat-show hosts have been whipping up emotions.
There is no win-win situation in allowing this spat to spiral out of control. The very idea of a divorce is unthinkable. Egypt needs our expertise, diplomatic backing and investment as much as we desire a strong and stable Egypt.
We have lost Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut to Persian influence. We are fighting bloody battles to rescue Sanaa, involving great sacrifice to our military. Is Egypt seriously willing to isolate itself from us to gain favor with Russia and/or Iran? That is the nightmare I fear: Yet another Arab state under the sway of Tehran, which in Egypt’s case could happen if financially squeezed.
Are the break-up and breakdown of the Arab world not exactly what our enemies want? I do not have to imagine the glee among the ayatollahs in Qom, right-wingers in Israel’s Knesset or neoconservatives in the US Congress watching us inflict damage to our own joint security; in other words, doing the job for them.
All governments involved should press hard on the brakes to prevent any escalation in word or deed. The problem-solving medicine requires open hearts, open minds and honest face-to-face dialogue between heads of state with the objective of a relationship reset, not only due to pragmatism but also because our identities are inextricably culturally linked.
I can never forget my Egyptian teachers who helped shape my young mind, or the pride I felt at being Arab while listening to the weekly radio addresses of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, a man who inspired us to hold our heads high and fueled our independent spirits during an era when they were close to being crushed. As hard as we might try, we can never ban the songs of Umm Kalthoum or Abdel Halim Hafez from our psyches.
Severing ties would bring more hardship for Egypt. It happened after the olive branch offered by Abdel Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat to Israel, prompting rage and the relocation of the Arab League headquarters from Egypt to Tunisia.
Since my homeland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has stood shoulder to shoulder with Cairo through thick and thin, just as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain have traditionally done, I am certain Egyptians would experience deep regret.
It is my fervent hope that cool heads will prevail to quash our enemies’ plots. Let no one come between us to divide and rule. With forgiveness and mutual understanding of one another’s concerns, and with God’s help, we will go forward together to withstand whatever challenges the future holds.
• Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.