Last updated: 12 July, 2012

Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, and Saudi King Abdullah discussed regional stability

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi held talks with Saudi leaders and on Thursday made a pilgrimage on his first official trip abroad, highlighting the kingdom’s importance to Egypt’s economic stability.

The trip by the newly-elected president comes despite tensions between the two Arab powerhouses over a rare diplomatic crisis that saw Riyadh recall its ambassador to Cairo in April.

Morsi said he and King Abdullah, in a meeting late on Wednesday, held “fruitful” talks focused on regional stability, according to the official SPA news agency.

Our discussions were “fruitful and constructive and in the interest of Egypt, of Saudi Arabia and of the people of the region,” Morsi told reporters in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after the meeting.

“Everything (King Abdullah) said was in the interest of the future, of the region and of Egypt,” he said, adding that the king spoke with “wisdom and knowledge and love for the Egyptian people.”

Morsi arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for his first foreign trip since taking office and also met with Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, who greeted him on arrival.

Few details were given on the talks between Morsi and Abdullah, though the Egyptian president said regional stability was a key focus.

“The stability of the region depends on the stability of Egypt and the Gulf, at the head of which stands Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Morsi said he chose Saudi Arabia for his first official visit due to the “deep rooted and historical relationship shared between the two countries.”

Tensions have long existed between the Gulf, where the strict Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam applies, and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, moderate Islamists who were thrust to power by the Arab Spring revolt that swept the country last year.

Under Morsi’s predecessor, the ousted Hosni Mubarak, Egypt and Saudi Arabia had close relations.

In April, however, Riyadh recalled its ambassador in Cairo and closed its embassy for several days, after protests demanding the release of a lawyer and rights activist detained in the kingdom.

Commenting on the visit, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, accompanying Morsi, told Egypt’s state news agency MENA that “any progress in relations between the two countries is in the interest of the whole region.”

“Egypt and Saudi Arabia constitute a cornerstone in the process of joint arab action,” he said adding that Morsi’s visit will reflect positively on the economic ties between the two nations.

Saudi Arabia hosts some 1.65 million Egyptian expatriate workers and could “increase its investments in Egypt soon,” the Saudi ambassador in Cairo, Ahmad Kattan, said last week.

Economists estimate that Saudi investments in Egypt amount to some $7.2 billion. Saudi Arabia is also Egypt’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching some $4.75 billion in 2011 and $4.1 billion in 2010.

Riyadh has deposited $1 billion into the Egyptian Central Bank as a loan guarantee, and Cairo, battling a severe economic crisis, has received a $1 billion pledge of assistance from the Saudi-based Islamic Development Bank.

On Thursday, Morsi made a pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest city of Mecca, SPA said.

Morsi was expected to meet later the same day with around 300 people from the Egyptian community in Saudi Arabia, including representatives of business associations, before leaving the Gulf kingdom.