UAE, Saudi Arabia throw Egypt a financial lifeline

UAE, Saudi Arabia throw Egypt a financial lifeline

The start of the Ramadan fast may do more to stabilize the country than any actions by the interim government

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Egyptian army soldiers stand guard around the Republican Guard building in Nasser City in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, July 8. (photo credit: AP/Khalil Hamra)
Egyptian army soldiers stand guard around the Republican Guard building in Nasser City in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, July 8. (photo credit: AP/Khalil Hamra)

The first good news for Egypt in the post-Muslim Brotherhood era came on Tuesday from unsurprising sources — Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While most Arab and Western countries, led by the US, are still struggling with how to react to the new regime in Cairo (the Obama administration put it well when it admitted that it had yet to decide on whether it was calling last week’s incidents a coup), Saudi Arabia and the UAE became the first countries to stand alongside the military and the new regime in Cairo after Mohammed Morsi’s ouster.

A senior Egyptian official told Reuters that the UAE had decided to give Egypt $1 billion and loan it another $2 billion. According to the official, the vast sums of money are part of a larger economic support plan.

But the UAE didn’t stop there. In light of Egypt’s fuel crisis, it sent 30,000 tons of diesel fuel that will arrive at the port in Suez and, in a minor way, reduce the pressure on gas stations.

Several hours later, the message came out that Saudi Arabia would be granting Egypt $5 billion.

These steps, along with the arrival in the country of UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed on Tuesday, at the head of a contingent of leaders, should come as no surprise in light of the open animosity between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the Muslim Brotherhood. For months, the head of the UAE police force, familiar to readers from the Mabhouh assassination case (in which the Mossad allegedly assassinated a Hamas arms dealer in Dubai in 2010), has criticized the Brotherhood, using colorful language to describe its actions. The tensions were increased by the open support of Qatar — a UAE adversary — for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in Syria.

Saudi Arabia, another central player in the political maneuvering taking place between the Persian Gulf states, is also considered hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar.

The split among the Gulf States is also apparent in their respective news coverage of the Egyptian coup/revolution. While the Qatar-based al-Jazeera was very critical, al-Arabiya — Saudi owned and based in Dubai — appeared to support the anti-Morsi camp.

It is still too early to tell what kind of influence the financial support will have on Egypt’s economy and — in the short term — whether it will influence public opinion following the killing of 51 pro-Morsi protesters on Monday.

The army is sure to lose the overwhelming support it has received until now in the wake of the deaths of dozens of Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Proof of that could already be seen on Tuesday, when Tamarod activists — who led the June 30 demonstrations — announced that the “constitutional decree” issued by interim president Adly Mansour on Monday regarding a timetable for elections was “illegal.”

It is also not clear whether the appointment of Hazem el-Beblawi to the role of prime minister will help calm the public and stabilize the political arena as the holy month of Ramadan gets underway. Beblawi served as finance minister and deputy prime minister during the High Military Council’s rule before Morsi’s election and quit following violent clashes between the army and Coptic Christians.

While Beblawi enjoys the support of the defense establishment, he is not depicted as its lackey. However, the announcement didn’t appear to make an impression on Muslim Brotherhood supporters who, once again, came out in their thousands Tuesday to protest the “coup.”

As Ramadan begins, it appears that the month of fasting will have the most dramatic effect on how things play out in Egypt. The fast, coupled with the overpowering heat, will likely do much to calm the protesters during the day. At night, however, once the Iftar feast is over, the holiday spirit may actually spark Islamists to violence.

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