CAIRO - The Egyptian president said on Thursday that his country remains committed to close relations with Gulf Arab allies, but declared that Cairo would continue to independently pursue its own policies to safeguard Arab security.
The remarks by Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, delivered in a televised speech to army officers and government ministers, came against the backdrop of an escalating spat over Syria between Egypt and Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
The comments by el-Sissi, who did not mention the kingdom by name, were his first on the issue since the row erupted this week. He also confirmed that Riyadh has halted previously agreed fuel shipments to Egypt.
“We have independent policies whose general frame is to safeguard Arab national security through an Egyptian perspective,” el-Sissi said.
He also defended Egypt's vote in favor of rival French and Russian draft resolutions on Syria at the U.N. Security Council over the weekend, arguing that both resolutions called for a truce and aid for besieged Syrians in the rebel-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo.
“I cannot imagine that our bothers in the Gulf object to that,” el-Sissi said.
It was that vote that had angered the Saudis, with the kingdom's U.N. envoy later publicly berating Egypt over it.
Saudi Arabia has poured billions of dollars into Egypt to keep its faltering economy afloat following the military's 2013 ouster of el-Sissi's predecessor, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi.
But relations cooled after King Salman ascended the Saudi throne in January 2015 and tensions between the two allies have since simmered over Syria and Yemen, as well as Egypt's relations with Shiite Iran and Iraq's Shiite-led government — both at sharp odds with Riyadh.
Saudi ambassador to Egypt, Ahmed Qatan, left Cairo for Riyadh on Wednesday but was expected to return to the Egyptian capital over the weekend. It was not immediately clear whether his departure was linked to the Saudi-Egypt spat.
The Cairo-Riyadh row has dominated the media in both countries. Many in Egypt saw Riyadh's decision to halt fuel shipments as an attempt by the Saudis to bring Egypt to its knees at a time when it is facing crippling economic woes, from double digit unemployment and inflation to a weakening currency and a growing domestic and foreign debt.
Addressing Egyptians, el-Sissi said: “The country is struggling under very tough circumstances. Those of you who wish us to have an independent national will must endure and I pray to God that you endure with me.”