Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are backing Egypt’s new leaders because they see the political Islam espoused by ousted president Mohamed Morsi as a threat to their rule, experts say.
In a strong message to the European Union, which meets Wednesday to discuss measures against Egypt over its deadly crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protests, Saudi Arabia has said Arab nations will step in to cover any cut in foreign aid to Egypt.
“To those who have announced they are cutting their aid to Egypt, or threatening to do that, (we say that) Arab and Muslim nations are rich… and will not hesitate to help Egypt,” Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Monday.
“The Gulf countries have a strong animosity towards Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Kuwaiti political analyst Ayed al-Manaa.
“The weakening of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt serves their interests, in showing that Egypt’s Islamist model could not be exported to the Gulf and other Arab countries,” he said.
Prince Saud told AFP on Wednesday that the kingdom has urged the international community, “not to take measures that could hamper the efforts of Egypt’s government to stabilise” the Arab nation.
He spoke two days after returning from Paris where he held talks with French President Francois Hollande, as Riyadh pushed to lobby support for Egypt’s interim government after the army deposed Morsi on July 3 following nationwide protests.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries welcomed Egypt’s ouster of Morsi, with Riyadh announcing an aid package of $5 billion to Egypt. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates followed suit, bringing the pledges made by the three oil-rich Arab states of the Gulf to $12 billion.
“Historically Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait in particular… have in their different ways accommodated the Muslim Brotherhood for domestic and regional strategic advantages,” said Neil Partrick, associate fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute.
“However, the proven threat of Muslim Brotherhood takeovers in the region following the Arab uprisings deepened a shift underway for more than 10 years and encouraged Riyadh to head a de facto alliance of hereditary regimes in Arabia against them,” he added.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally had strong ties with Egypt’s military.
These links “never went away despite Morsi’s election” and his “unpopularity and ineptness, provided an opportunity for Saudi Arabia together principally with the UAE, to encourage a return” to the former status quo, Partrick said.
The Muslim Brotherhood lost the trust of Gulf monarchies after failing to condemn the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq’s then dictator Saddam Hussein.
In the UAE, members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been jailed over charges of plotting to overthrow the regime.
Saudi’s main concern is the “stability of Egypt,” according to Saudi political sociology professor Khalid al-Dakhil.
“The idea of the collapse of Egypt terrifies Riyadh,” he said.
“Saudi Arabia has chosen to stand by the side of Egypt’s military institution that it has known for decades, and the one it thinks could stabilise Egypt after the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in ruling,” he said.
The oil-rich kingdom and the UAE have gone as far as “forming a lobby opposing the West’s position and defending Egypt,” said Lebanese analyst Abdel Wahab Badrakhan.
“Saudi Arabia is already deceived by the West’s neglect of Syria and leaving it to disintegrate… while Gulf countries find the US and Western position towards Iran not clear,” he said.
Qatar, however, has stood out among Gulf nations, strongly condemning the crackdown on the supporters of Morsi, to whom the wealthy state was a key backer.
The tiny state supported the Muslim Brotherhood for “pragmatic, more than ideological, motives,” as it saw them ready to rule in Arab Spring nations more than other parties, argued Dakhil.
“Qatar will suffer isolation within the Gulf Cooperation Council… Qataris have to reposition themselves after they had put all their eggs in the basket of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.