News / Middle East

Saudi King’s Egypt Trip Highlights Regional Bonds

FILE - Saudi King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz.
FILE - Saudi King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz.
Elizabeth Arrott
Saudi King Abdullah’s rare visit to Cairo Friday is a show of solidarity between Arab leaders who make counter-terrorism their battle cry.
As Iraq cracks along sectarian lines, both Cairo and Riyadh condemn the religious extremism of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Sunni Muslim group making swift territorial gains against Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated government.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry has called for a quick resolution of the violence to ensure future generations “can cope with the forces of extremism and maintain the concept of the nation-state in Iraq and the Levant.”
The latter is an apparent reference to Syria, where ISIL also holds ground. Egypt’s current government officially sides with Syria’s opposition, but is extremely wary of having Egyptians fight alongside the more extreme elements, and bringing those views back home.
Saudi Arabia has also condemned the extremism of ISIL, but in a sign of the deeply entangled alliances and suspicions that haunt the region, was forced this week to deny an Iraqi government claim it supports the militants.
Even as questions linger on their respective positions on ISIL, what indisputably binds the leaders of Sunni-majority Egypt and Saudi Arabia is their disdain for the founding group of modern Islamism, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Brotherhood as godfather
Supporters of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi view the Iraqi conflict as a vindication of their government’s crackdown on the Brotherhood and the idea of removing Islamism from politics.
Gruesome videos of the excesses of ISIL bolster their view. So, too, does commentary this week on the Brotherhood’s website, which characterizes the bloodshed in Iraq as a “revolt for freedom.”
“We made it very clear that if you want to play politics, stay away from religion,” said Cairo-based publisher and political commentator Hisham Kassem. A defender of Sissi’s role in ousting Egypt’s first freely elected president, Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi, Kassem says his country offers an example for Iraq and the region. “Egypt will be teaching a lesson: that we put our foot down early on this religious, sectarian politics.”
For sidelining the Brotherhood, long viewed by the Saudi monarchy as a challenge to its rule, Riyadh has been generously grateful. The kingdom has sent billions of dollars in aid to post-Morsi Egypt, keeping afloat, if barely, its sinking economy.
Of course, few countries mix religion and politics more deeply than Saudi Arabia. With its strict application of Sharia, or Islamic law, human rights groups regularly cite it as among the most oppressively religious-run nations in the world.
Religion vs. rights
Rights groups have also condemned Egypt’s repression of the Brotherhood.  The crackdown has claimed some 1,000 lives, seen hundreds sentenced to death and, by the government’s own estimates, at least 16,000 imprisoned.
Yet both Egypt and Saudi Arabia say the answer to the problems in Iraq is tolerance. Officials have urged leaders in Baghdad to move beyond Shi’ite-centered sectarian politics to include more of the nation’s Sunni majority. 
The politics of inclusion were also championed this week by the Arab League, that creaking home of regional unity on the banks of the Nile.
Observers note that few, if any, of the League’s member states practice what they preach. In Egypt, one Western diplomat warns that the government does so at its own risk.
“When you see the consequences of a lack of inclusion in countries around the region, even if Egypt is not likely to turn into a Syria or Iraq - historical conditions and composition are different - you still have to worry about the consequences of a not-inclusive policy and continuing the tradition that the winner takes all,” said the diplomat.
That “winner takes all” approach, argue some analysts, may be the region’s one, true common denominator, cutting across the battle lines of sectarianism, extremism, military-backed governments and theocratic rule.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs