A New Oil War

Egypt and Saudi Arabia sever diplomatic ties over the conflagration in Syria
Shubhda Choudhary Delhi

Conflicts in West Asia have been marred with bloodshed, manslaughter and militant Islam. Though, several times, what occurs before such tragedy is the break-up of political liaisons, often silently yet firmly. One such episode took place between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as the brawl between the two countries reached a boiling point over Syria. Al-Jazeera has recently revealed that Aramco, the Saudi Oil Company, has suddenly stopped its shipments to Egypt without giving an official reason or even a time-frame within which supply will resume. This news has garnered attention in the Middle-Eastern mediaspace because it is a breach in the April 2016 agreement according to which Saudi Arabia had to provide 700,000 tons of oil to Egypt for the next five years on easy repayment terms. But suddenly, the deal has been broken off, as if it never diplomatically mattered and Egypt needs to immediately strike a balance for oil supply to replace Saudi Arabia from its list of suppliers.

Let’s not forget that it is the same Saudi Arabia which invested in the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and since then, has been financially bankrolling the military junta, leading to the eventual rise of President Sisi. Disagreements between the two started surfacing because of their different perspectives of political Islam. On one hand, where President Sisi is more of a secularist, the Saudi royal family are staunch supporters of Wahhabism. In fact, they have been financing the extreme Salafists in Syria, for a very long time. The rift between Saudi Arabia and Egypt also signifies the growing fractures emerging in political Islam itself, as it gets more contested, misunderstood and vulnerable because of the past five years of development in West Asia.

Till the time Sisi did not concretely participate in the Syrian conflict, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were able to continue their bilateral alliance. The final straw was, when Syria’s Chief of Intelligence, General Ali Mamlouk paid a visit to Cairo two weeks earlier; it sent a clear signal to Saudi Arabia that now Egypt is getting prepared to fight for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. According to Jerusalem Post and Syria’s SANA News, both Egypt and Syria are now ready to co-ordinate their geo-political positions so that they can fight the threat of terrorism.

Meanwhile, Egyptian diplomats have also started having conversations with their Russian counterparts in the Security Council of UN, especially on matters related with the resolutions on Syria. Political pundits envisage that Russia has played a pivotal role in building the nascent proximity between Syria and Egypt. It also stems from the fact that both Russia and Egypt strongly believe that it’s time that a strong regional coalition should emerge in West Asia in order to fight the threat of terrorism. Meanwhile, Russia has also keenly observed how Egypt is facing its own problems with United Stated and hence, diplomatically it is the right moment to seduce, ally and instigate. Along with diplomatic moves, Russia is also going to hold its first ever joint military exercise with Egypt.

Whether or not Egyptian-Saudi realignment would take place remains a mystery. As these are early developments, it is definitely hard to predict the trajectory of diplomatic alliances. But at the same time, be it the Western powers like United States, France or Britain as well as the regional powers like Israel, Iran and Turkey, the growing proximity between Egypt and Syria cannot be ignored. The sudden fracas between Saudi Arabia and Egypt would also financially impact the military junta rule in Egypt and hence can have dire consequences in the long run.