Analysis: Rise of Islamists frays strategic UAE-Egyptian relations

Sun Feb 17, 2013 11:25am EST
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By Rania El Gamal and William Maclean

DUBAI (Reuters) - Days before his overthrow, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak received a senior visitor from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of several Gulf monarchies long supportive of the most Arab populous country and its veteran strongman.

What transpired between Mubarak and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan is not known, beyond the fact that a letter from UAE ruler Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan was delivered.

But the significance of the February 8, 2011 visit was clear: It was a gesture of understanding and concern for a longtime friend who had been a trusted diplomatically for most Gulf Arabs, not least in their confrontation with non-Arab Iran.

Fast forward to 2013 and the picture is starkly different.

The UAE-Egyptian relationship has been strained by the regional spread of Islamist influence - Egypt now has an elected Islamist president - with implications not only for the two protagonists but all Arab states hit by the uprisings against dictators and dynasties that began two years ago.

Poorer, densely populated Arab states like Egypt often look to Gulf states for investment and financing, as well as overseas work for their nationals, a need ever more acute with rulers under unprecedented pressure to produce jobs and services.

The UAE, home to around 380,000 Egyptian expatriates and a major investor in Egypt, pledged $3 billion of aid to Cairo in 2011. But the funds have not yet been transferred, an Egyptian source familiar with the matter told Reuters, mainly due to the political instability in post-revolution Egypt.

A break in relations between the Arab political heavyweight and the Gulf financial powerhouse would be unthinkable. But the unfamiliar chill in their dealings reflects an increasingly complicated relationship between these two groups of countries.   Continued...

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sits inside a cage in a courtroom in Cairo June 2, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer