by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 9, Safar, 1438)
A common threat from the takfiri terrorists has forced the two regimes in Egypt and Syria to cooperate with each other. This is a blow to Saudi machinations in the region.
Regimes in the Muslim East (aka the Middle East) are quite fickle. One day, the rulers are on kissing terms rubbing noses in public, the next they are at each other’s throat. Often it is difficult to keep track of their fast-changing vagaries. Some changes, however, are welcome even if the motives may be suspect.
Take the case of arguably the most important country in the Muslim East, Egypt, which is ruled by a dictator who owes his rise to power to the help of Bani Saud, the most notorious tribal rulers in the region. Bani Saud financed the July 2013 military coup in Egypt. They also provided billions of dollars in aid to shore up the crumbling Egyptian economy. And Egypt facilitated the Saudi-Israeli alliance to enable Bani Saud to come out of purdah.
Recent developments, however, point to the Egyptians breaking away from the Saudi camp. The first public signs of this emerged at the Islamic conference in the Chechen capital, Grozny, on August 25–27. Muslim scholars from many countries were invited to participate. The largest contingent was from Egypt. The Saudis were pointedly kept out. Adding insult to injury, the final communique of the conference said that the Salafis are not “Sunnis.” This amounted to declaring them non-Muslims since the Salafis are loathed to call themselves Shi‘is. This naturally caused great consternation in the Bani Saud-ruled kingdom that specializes in branding other Muslims as kafirs. For once, they got a dose of their own medicine, and that too, from the top religious authority of al-Azhar. Surely the Shaykh of al-Azhar could not have done so without a nod from the rulers in Cairo.
But there are other disturbing developments that have got ten the Saudis greatly worried. On October 16, Major General Ali Mamlouk, head of Syria’s National Security Bureau, paid a one-day official visit to Cairo to hold talks with senior Egyptian intelligence officials about cooperation in confronting terrorists. Syria has faced the terrorist menace since the foreign-sponsored mayhem erupted there in early-2011. Egypt has faced a similar threat, especially in Sinai, since General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in July 2013.
During his Cairo visit, General Mamlouk met with Major General Khaled Fawzy, director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate. He also met a number of other officials and reached a general agreement on “coordinating political standpoints” and improving bilateral “cooperation in the combat against terrorism.”
It must be borne in mind that much of the terrorism plaguing the region can be traced directly to Saudi Arabia. It serves as the incubator for terrorists and exports them to other countries, especially Syria and Iraq. That also explains why the Islamic Conference in Grozny did not invite the Saudis. The latter have sent takfiri terrorists into the predominantly Sufi region of the Caucasus resulting in much mayhem there. Even Turkey has abandoned its demand for President Bashar al-Asad’s ouster focusing its imperial ambitions on Mosul instead.
But it is Egypt’s break with Riyadh that is most striking. On September 23, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry announced that Cairo and Riyadh did not share common attitudes vis-à-vis the ongoing crisis in Syria. He also said that terrorist groups could not remain in Syria if peace was to be achieved there. And he called for a political solution to the Syrian crisis, in clear departure from the Saudi policy of demanding al-Asad’s ouster. Interesting times, indeed.