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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Gulf States are the Arab nation’s backbone

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

In truth, 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 that 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 the 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 for 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 Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulziz as “too big to fail”.

No doubt there are certain policy differences, notably with respect to Syria, and it is true to say that Egypt and Gulf States have different priorities in regard to 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.

The 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 but it is reassuring to know that both Egypt’s cabinet and parliament have signed off on the handover conditional upon the ruling of the country’s High Administrative Court.

However, 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 over 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, that 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 which has 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 absolutely no win-win situation to be had by 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.

Think about it. 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 favour 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. Is that not exactly what our enemies want to happen – the break-up and breakdown of the Arab World?

I do not have to imagine the glee among the ayatollahs in Qom or among right-wingers in Israel’s Knesset or the neoconservatives in the United States 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 Jamal Abdul Nasser, a man who inspired us to hold our heads high and fuelled 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 subsequent to the olive branch offered by Abdul Nasser’s successor, President Anwar el-Sadat, to Israel prompting rage resulting in the relocation of the League of Arab States headquarters from Egypt to Tunisia. And when my homeland, the United Arab Emirates has stood shoulder to shoulder with Cairo, through thick and thin, just as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain has 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, with God’s help we will go forward together to withstand whatever challenges the future holds.

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