The word “no” is the most prevalent in the Egyptian scene right now. Scores of noes are reiterated daily on the local level: no to military trials, no to remnants of the former regime, no to the military council, no to presidential elections before drafting the constitution, no to the constituent assembly, no to the elections commission, and no to postponing presidential elections.
The international level has also had its share of those noes: no to borrowing from the World Bank, no to American aid, no to exporting natural gas to Israel, no to closing down NGOs and so on. The latest no is to Saudi Arabia and follows the arrest of an Egyptian man called Ahmed al-Gazawi at Jeddah Airport for possession of banned drugs.
Of course, Egyptian citizens have the right to dictate all the noes they want to their government, but this is not possible when the matter is beyond their borders. They can demand that the Egyptian embassy in Riyadh be closed down, that Egyptians be banned from traveling to Saudi, or that Egypt severs its ties with Saudi Arabia, but they cannot prevent another country from arresting an Egyptian for committing an offence under its laws or from punishing him or taking him to court.
Those who want Egypt to severe ties with a country like Saudi Arabia, with which it has very strong relations, or to summon Egyptians working there are imposing their demands on other Egyptians who have not been consulted about such a procedure.
If Egyptians choose to say no to all the common interests between the two countries, it is their right and their business. However, one question remains: Who has the right to say yes or no on behalf of the Egyptian people? The protestors? The members of parliament? The new president? Egypt’s decision in this regard should be issued by the Egyptian state and not by talk shows and popular demonstrations.
For a year now, the world has been waiting for the decision of Egyptians on their future state. A year ago, Qatar promised to give Egypt 10 billion dollars after electing a president and so did the UAE. The World Bank refused to lend Egypt money until its political scene takes shape. The new Egyptian system is currently at the formation phase and half of it has materialized. The two houses of parliament have been elected while the president, the constitution, and the government remain to be tended to. Only when this process is complete will Egyptians be able to make decisions about foreign relations, but now competition is raging and each party is attempting to embarrass the other and garner more popular and emotional support. Hence, the majority of the noes have no logic behind them.
For example, those who say no to borrowing from the World Bank in order to boost the staggering Egyptian economy are not aware that countries like Spain, Romania, Greece, and others are all queuing in front of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This in no way harms their dignity. The same applies to those who want to cancel the American aid and who are not aware of how this aid is part of a complex relationship based on mutual interests. In fact, most countries in the region hope they can get an annual U.S. aid similar to Egypt’s and which is estimated at $1.5 billion, thus exceeding the aid all Arab countries get.
First, the Egyptian suspect would not have been granted a visa to Saudi Arabia had there been a previous stance against him. Second, he is not known to a lot of people, Saudis in particular, especially when compared to other prominent Egyptian figures, regardless of their critical or supportive rhetoric. Third, Saudi Arabia is home to the largest Egyptian community outside Egypt and interestingly ranks second among Egyptian communities who lead a peaceful life, with the least amount of problems. Fourth, the Saudi work system, which some complain about, is applied to all nationalities and is not exclusive to Egyptians.
Saudis and all those who are irked at the way things developed should realize that Egypt today is like a ship without a captain tossed in a stormy sea. They all have to wait for the results of this long Egyptian marathon.
I am sure that things will not escalate and relations between the two countries will not undergo a drastic change regardless of the regime that will take charge of Egypt and whether it will turn out to be civil, military, Muslim Brotherhood, or Nasserist. The relationship between Egypt and Saudi Arabia has remained stable for three quarters of a century and has been through several bumpy phases. When the monarchy was overthrown in 1952, relations continued with the new regime. In 1979, late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was upset that Saudi refused to support the peace treaty he signed with Israel then he was the one to resume bilateral ties like his predecessor Gamal Abdel Nasser did.
Truth is Egypt’s fate is tied to Saudi Arabia no matter which faction comes to power. Egypt ranks third in gross domestic product in the region after Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This means that Egypt’s economy is bigger than that of Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, and Libya together in terms of economic power. Egyptians will not be able to put this power into effect without establishing strong relations with economically powerful countries in the region like Saudi Arabia.
Those who throw stones at the Saudi embassy in Cairo are in fact throwing stones at Egyptians living in the kingdom and who are already concerned about lack of security and the struggle for power among different political factions. Many will be shocked to know that a sizable portion of the million-and-a-half Egyptians in Saudi Arabia have stopped sending remittances home for the past year for fear that their savings might go down the drain in the midst of the rampant chaos. They fear the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, the possible bankruptcy of banks, and the volatility of the political and security situation.
Those who started the revolution should preserve the gains of their country instead of confusing them with those of the former regime.
The writer is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on April 30, 2012 and translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid