Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is on a diplomatic tour of several countries in the region with the aim of strengthening relations. The first stop on this trip was Egypt, where the de facto Saudi leader arrived on Monday evening to meet with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
After a welcoming ceremony at Cairo airport that reflected the cordiality between the two, Bin Salman and Al-Sisi discussed issues of common interest and matters related to their bilateral ties at the presidential palace in the Egyptian capital. As a result of the meeting, the two leaders signed 14 agreements worth $7.7 billion, according to Reuters.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt enjoy close strategic cooperation in a number of fields. This visit, in the words of the Saudi ambassador to Cairo, Osama bin Ahmed Nugali, "is an extension of an uninterrupted path of partnership and consultation", and "consolidates and celebrates the ties that have been strengthened over the years", reports Arab News.
On the agenda of the meeting are regional and international issues, especially the war in Ukraine and its economic impact on the Middle East. Egypt - the world's largest importer of wheat - is one of the countries most threatened by the food insecurity caused by the conflict, with Russia and Ukraine accounting for 80% of the country's total imports in 2021. Last March, a month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the prices of bread and its ingredients, such as flour, rose by 15%. For this reason, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbuli opted to fix prices for the sale of non-subsidiary bread for the next few months.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has been under heavy pressure from the West to increase oil production to cope with the war-induced rise in fuel prices.
Mohammed bin Salman's trip therefore comes at an extremely important time for the Middle East. As international relations expert Tariq Al-Bardisi explains to Egyptian media outlet Sada El Balad, the region is facing unprecedented political and economic challenges in the context of the Ukraine crisis.
"The purpose of Mohammed bin Salman's visit is to confirm the extent of Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's strength and steadfastness in the face of this conflict and this context of global turmoil," he says. Al-Bardisi also underlines the energy capabilities of both countries. On the one hand, Riyadh and oil, and on the other, Cairo's potential to export gas from the Mediterranean. For this reason, the expert affirms that President Joe Biden is focused on the region "because he needs all the wealth that these countries possess". Biden is scheduled to visit the region in July. During this trip, Biden will participate in a meeting with several regional leaders, including Bin Salman and Al-Sisi.
After the meeting at the presidential palace in Cairo, Bin Salman will travel to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II. The Saudi prince's visit to Amman is aimed at improving relations between the two kingdoms after several years of tensions over the custody of holy sites in Jerusalem and the case of the king's half-brother, Hamza bin Hussein, accused of an attempted coup against the monarch.
First, the supposed rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia that has been brewing for some time has raised fears in Amman over the future of the holy city's Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as other sites sacred to both Muslims and Christians. The Jordanian Royal Court has been in charge of protecting them since 1994, when Israel and Jordan signed an agreement that Amman would be the guardian of these holy sites.
However, in recent years several reports have revealed Riyadh's desire to take control of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. As a senior Palestinian Authority official admitted to Al-Monitor in 2018, Riyadh was in that year "investing a great deal of effort to take away Jordan's custody of Jerusalem's holy sites".
In addition to this rift, Saudi-Jordanian relations have been affected by the coup attempt against Abdullah II. Reports have pointed to the involvement of Bassem Awadallah, former head of Jordan's Royal Court and former advisor to Mohammed bin Salman, in the foiled coup.
However, the visit is intended to defuse tensions and improve bilateral relations ahead of Biden's trip to the region. "King Abdullah is likely to be interested in a personal commitment by bin Salman not to intervene in Jordanian domestic politics, especially within the Royal Court," says analyst Aaron Magid, quoted by The Jerusalem Post.
Within this rapprochement, as with other countries seeking to boost their ties with Riyadh, economics plays a key role. "One tangible way for Riyadh to strengthen ties with Jordan would be to increase economic aid to Amman, which has liquidity problems," Magid adds. Jordanian expert Samar Muhareb agrees, telling the Israeli newspaper that the visit could "offer relief from the economic problems" caused by the pandemic.
The new phase between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the country that Bin Salman will visit after Jordan, is also heavily conditioned by the economic issue due to the severe financial crisis plaguing the Eurasian country.
Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.