Saudi Arabia’s Plan for the MENA –Where is the Place to Stop?

12.04.2016 Author: Catherine Shakdam

image (2)Saudi Arabia King Salman visited Egypt this weekend – a move most media hailed as a sign of rapprochement in between the two powers, a positive development which will undoubtedly allow for better cooperation, and thus security in the region. I, for one, remain very dubious. A carnivorous power, Saudi Arabia never gives anything unless it stands to take more … and since Egypt stands an important geostrategic pawn, sitting atop the Suez Canal, and several crucial openings onto Europe, Africa and the Middle East, I would venture and say that King Salman’s motives have more to do with asserting his own ambitions, than bringing the region closer together – unless of course by closer you mean under al-Saud’s banner.

A quote from Friedrich Nietzsche often comes to mind when the House of Saud is mentioned. The philosopher once said: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

The abyss as it happens already swallowed some of Egypt sovereignty. How long before the entire country is sold out to Saudi Arabia’s imperial ambitions, co-opted into submission by capitalism’ siren song? Or was it the threat of terror … it is difficult to tell those days as both threats and bribery have become politics’ only language.

Addressing Egypt’s Parliament on Sunday, Saudi King Salman made a point at highlighting Riyadh’s new Egyptian investment funds of $16 billion, arguing such generosity would “herald a new era of cooperation” between the two powers. King Salman insisted on using the word “allies” even though by all account, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have stood somewhat at odds with each other since 2011. In between Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sissi’s refusal to send troops to Yemen, and Cairo’s insistence to keep Russia close to its military heart, Riyadh has increasingly looked upon Egypt as a challenger to its rule, and not so much an obedient vassal.

When it comes to Saudi Arabia I would like to think that readers are not still under the impression that its officials are playing by sovereignty’s rule … Riyadh only understands one thing and that it is its own imperious hegemonic ambitions. The world’s most violent, repressive and reactionary theocracy does not care for security, democracy-building or even counter-terrorism. How could it when it has wielded terror as a weapon of mass-destabilization against its political nemesis – ie: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And then of course there is Yemen’s war – a war which so far has claimed over 10,000 lives and reduced an entire nation to famine courtesy of one atrocious humanitarian blockade.

Riyadh’s intents are never peaceful, and they certainly never translate into positive changes.

A regional superpower in its own right, Egypt stands in the way of Saudi Arabia’s hegemonic monopoly. I don’t believe there is any other way to look at Riyadh’s sudden interests in Cairo’s financial welfare. Put it simply, al-Saud Royals are not generous philanthropists, rather dangerous loan sharks

The only potent Arab military super-power left in the region Egypt cannot exactly be challenged from a place of brutal force, hence Saudi Arabia’s attempt to erode first at its economy, and then its political independence. Beggars are not choosers they say … the idiom could not be more relevant.

“The close Saudi-Egyptian cooperation that we are witnessing today is a blessed start for our Arab and Islamic world to strike an equilibrium after years of imbalance,” the king said in the speech, broadcast on state television.

Here is what he did not say – that Egypt relinquished territorial sovereignty over two small islands in the Red Sea. Small here is not the key word … Red Sea is.

Those two islands happen to be geostrategic invaluable. So much so that Israel has had its eye on it for several decades now. Interesting how Riyadh happened to succeed where Tel Aviv could not. What an interesting geo-political development indeed to see Saudi Arabia extend its territorial sovereignty over that of Egypt, on an area Israel has so long coveted without even a murmur being spoken by Tel Aviv neocons. The islands of Tiran and Sanafar, are in the Straits of Tiran, a narrow passage between Egypt’s Sinai province and the Saudi coast that links the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba.an

Back in 1967 then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to all Israeli ships, severely challenging Tel Aviv’s maritime ability, notwithstanding its projection of power within the immediate region. Such a challenge led to a military escalation which culminated in the six-day war, and resulted in an Israeli takeover of the strait and its islands.

In 1979 Israel returned the islands to Egypt as part of peace treaty in which the two countries agreed the waterway should stay open to international vessels, including Israel’s.

With Riyadh now in control one can easily assume that such rights of passage will remain tied to al-Saud’s political whim. and add one more piece to a puzzle which has eluded media so far. Behind a veneer of legitimacy and responsible politicking Saudi Arabia has worked to exert absolute control over the world oil route.

From the Straits of Hormuz to Bab al Mandab and now the Straits of Tiran Riyadh ambitions to gather to its will Bahrain, Yemen and Egypt, as to cancel Iran’s weight and thus impose itself as the only option on the table. Needless to say that such power should not be entrusted to the likes of the House of Saud, not if we take energy security seriously.

And while Saudi Arabia’s land grab has yet to be ratified by the Egyptian Parliament it appears evident Cairo already sold out its sovereignty in exchange for financial access.

But Riyadh was not done with Cairo just yet … two islands were not merely enough. It had to have a bridge too!

A bridge … innocent enough many will argue. Good business entrepreneurs will offer … While it may be true, a bridge in between the kingdom and the Egyptian Republic could also lead to covert colonialism. Let me take you all the way across Saudi Arabia East coast, and one other bridge: King Fahd Causeway.

Now, King Fahd Causeway was instrumental in the deployment of troops in Bahrain in 2011 against pro-democracy protesters. This very bridge, this link uniting the kingdom to Bahrain essentially allowed for Riyadh to reaffirm control over an otherwise rebellious society.

King Fahd Causeway acted a colonial outpost to the kingdom … can we truly assert that Egypt’s Red Sea bridge will not? Can we in all honesty not recognize the face of covert imperialism in this very “polite” and well-orchestrated takeover over Egyptian land, Egyptian sovereignty and Egyptian’s right to self-govern?

Allow me to take it one step further. If Saudi Arabia was able from afar to orchestrate the influx of terror militants into Syria to manifest its ambition of control over the Levant, how quickly do you think Riyadh will whip itself a terror uprising in Egypt should the need arise … or any countries thereafter for that matter.

And Egypt thought its pharaohs were long gone …

 Catherine Shakdam is the Associate Director of the Beirut Center for Middle Eastern Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.