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Egypt's Morsi to Make Saudi Arabia His First Foreign Visit

  • Margaret Besheer

In this photo released by the Egyptian Presidency, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Egypt Ahmed Kattan meets with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, in Cairo, July 7, 2012.

In this photo released by the Egyptian Presidency, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Egypt Ahmed Kattan meets with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, in Cairo, July 7, 2012.

CAIRO - Egypt's new president Mohamed Morsi will make his first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia. Analysts say his choice of a strong Sunni Muslim country with deep pockets is significant.

President Morsi will visit the conservative Islamic kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday where he is expected to meet with King Abdullah as well as visit the holy city of Mecca where he will perform Umrah - a form of Muslim pilgrimage that can be performed any time during the year.

Under Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt had close relations with Saudi Arabia, and political analyst Hisham Kassem says that is likely to continue.

"They [the Saudis] will be very interested in maintaining good relations with Egypt as they did with Mubarak. It is in everyone's interest," said Kassem.

Unemployment is high in Egypt and chairman of the Jeddah-based Gulf Research Center Abdulaziz Sager says encouraging Saudi Arabia's private sector to invest in Egypt is likely to top Morsi's agenda.

"I am sure he wants to attract them again to continue their investments in Egypt and to assure them of the stability and the political stability in Egypt," said Sager. "At [the] same time, also if he can increase the sort of export of manpower from Egypt to Saudi Arabia that will help, because the remittances from Egyptian laborers to Egypt in Saudi is quite significant also."

Sager says Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to show serious economic support for Egypt, committing more than $4.5 billion to the country. Saudi Arabia is also a major shareholder in the Islamic Development Bank, which signed a $1 billion cooperation agreement last week with Egypt to support its food and energy sectors.

Hisham Kassem says Morsi, who was a long-time member of the Muslim Brotherhood, may also see in Saudi Arabia a potential lender with similar Islamic values.

"Given Morsi's political persuasion and aversion to international monetary institutions, I think he will try and get basically Islamic-backed economic backing, as opposed to other monetary institutions, that they might consider dealings with them to be anti-islamic or usury," said Kassem.

From Saudi Arabia's perspective, analysts say the Saudis see their investments as contributing to political stability in Egypt as well as potentially off-setting Shi'ite Iran's creeping influence in the Middle East.

President Morsi also plans to travel to the African Union's headquarters in Addis Ababa next Sunday.

Abdulaziz Sager says Egypt used to have strong relations with Africa and President Morsi is looking to reinforce those ties. Egypt, which shares the Nile River with eight other countries, also needs good relations so it can negotiate important water issues with its African neighbors.

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