Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi offered effusive praise Monday for the United Arab Emirates, seeking to repair a rift between Cairo and the Gulf Arab states that have supplied billions of dollars in aid to his nation.
El-Sissi has relied on handouts from Gulf Arab states to keep his country’s economy afloat since seizing power in 2013. Estimates suggest over $100 billion in Gulf money has gone to Cairo via Central Bank deposits, fuel aid and other support since then.
But in recent weeks, Gulf Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, have begun signaling that they want to see more reforms from countries receiving their aid — particularly as nations worldwide struggle with inflation and the fallout from Russia’s war on Ukraine. That likely would affect Egypt, which already is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to reform.
“We used to give direct grants and deposits without strings attached and we are changing that,” Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. “We need to see reforms. We are taxing our people. We are expecting also others to do the same, to do their efforts. We want to help but we want you also to do your part.”
In Kuwait, at least one lawmaker has begun asking about the billions loaned to Egypt and whether any of those funds had been repaid. While leaders in the United Arab Emirates haven’t commented publicly on its aid packages, it too has its own development plans and is being asked to deliver aid to earthquake-stricken Turkey and Syria.
Earlier this month, an opinion piece in the Egyptian state-owned newspaper Al-Gomhorya argued that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states had no right to criticize the Egyptian government’s handling of its economy.
“Those barefoot and naked, who wore the most luxurious clothes recently, should not attack Egypt,” wrote editor Abdel Razek Tawfiq. “States whose age does not exceed the age of my youngest son do not have the right to talk about Egypt except with politeness, reverence and respect.”
The article later disappeared from the newspaper’s website, but a firestorm broke out online over the column. During a televised speech last week, el-Sissi talked down the spat.
’If we can’t say something good we should remain silent,’’ el-Sissi said.
El-Sissi spoke Monday before the World Government Summit in Dubai at a session attended by both UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The Egyptian president began his remarks acknowledging the two rulers as his “brothers.”
El-Sissi, onstage at the summit for what was billed as an interview with a journalist, launched into a monologue praising the UAE and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed for his aid after the 2013 overthrow.
“The first to highlight is the support I have received from our brothers,” el-Sissi said. “Everything I said would not have been possible without the support we received.”
He didn’t directly address the controversy around the newspaper column, though toward the end of his remarks he referred elliptically to the dispute.
“Reality may be different from what we see in the media or what we hear from politicians … even when it’s politicians who think they are in control,” el-Sissi said. “Make sure to thank God for the generosity we have received.”
Anwar Gargash, a senior Emirati diplomat, tweeted after el-Sissi’s appearance: “Egypt, as usual, is loyal to its brothers and their stances. Appreciation for the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait was present in President Sissi’s speech.”
The Egyptian government has plans to sell stakes in dozens of state-controlled companies, including banks and energy firms. However, the government and the Egyptian military dominate the economy of the Arab world’s most-populous country, worrying investors.
Egypt meanwhile is allowing its Egyptian pound to devalue, with the currency down nearly 50% over the last year. The country also faces a foreign currency shortage exacerbating its woes and forcing it to postpone major projects.
El-Sissi, an army general, led the 2013 ouster of then-President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. His government has cracked down on dissidents and critics, jailing tens of thousands, virtually banning protests and monitoring social media.