In political science and international relations, among the approaches used in analysing human relations from the individual to the national level is what is known as “political communication.”
Supporters of this approach say that many of the internal and external tensions of political life arise from the absence, weakness, or deformation of communication between the different parties.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia are now in a similar situation, which reflects a state of diplomatic imbalance—and diplomacy is considered the single most important mechanism of communication between states.
So let’s put ourselves in Saudi Arabia’s shoes to understand its perspective and the ways in which they see relations with Egypt.
First, Saudi Arabia believes Egyptian media (both traditional and social media) constantly attacks Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi school of thought, and even King Salman himself, all of which are done under the consent or approval of the Egyptian administration.
On the other side, if I put myself in Egypt’s shoes, I shall find that the Egyptian administration is not entirely in control of the media, based on the head of state’s complaints about how the media often exaggerates and transmits inaccurate news, effectually disturbing Egyptian relations with other countries. Often do we find the media attacking the Egyptian administration, a trend that seems to be more pronounced in social media, which is creative in distorting facts.
Second, if we put ourselves in Saudi Arabia’s shoes to understand how they see the issue of the two islands Tiran and Sanafir, we will realise that they believe the Egyptian government does not want the agreement to proceed for two reasons. First, the Egyptian government took eight months before sending the agreement to parliament. Second, the Egyptian administration instructed the administrative judiciary to invalidate the agreement.
However, once again, the Egyptian administration’s point of view is totally different. The public reaction to the agreement was unexpected for both administrations, the Egyptian and Saudi. Besides, many Egyptian military personnel and officials asserted that the two islands have been under the Egyptian administration and not sovereignty, claiming that this matter is clear to a broad sector of the public. It was important to coordinate with the UN, the US, and Israel because the Egyptian administration inherited a peace treaty with Israel, which detailed the status of the two islands and Israel’s right of navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba.
As for the situation in Syria, Saudi Arabia supports the Syrian people and wishes that Bashar Al-Assad would fall. The Saudi administration justified its position that Bashar Al-Assad’s regime is a spearhead to the Iranian one in the north-west of the Saudi Kingdom. Furthermore, Al-Assad had previously insulted the family of Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah personally. To that effect, when Egypt voted in favour of the French and Russian programmes regarding Syria, without sufficient coordination with Saudi, the Saudi administration believed that Egypt abandoned its Arab commitment and now adopts the Russian and Iranian position, and this puts Egypt in Bashar Al-Assad’s side.
The Egyptian administration strategy, on the other hand, says that the issue is not about Al-Assad or his regime. Its view is that the experience of Somalia, Iraq, and Libya suggests that the collapse of the Syrian regime (regardless of our views on Al-Assad) would result in the disintegration of the country and community into independent militias, mini-communities, and denominations.
Egypt wants the central government to survive even for a transitional period so that Syria does not fall forever.
Fourth, the situation in Yemen: From the point of view of the Saudis, the kingdom took the words of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi “we will be right there” to mean that the Egyptian military would arrive immediately to regions posing a threat to any country in the Gulf. When the threat came from the Iranian side in the north and the kingdom’s south was threatened in the wake of the Yemeni Civil War, it seemed that Egypt did not fulfil its commitment towards Saudi.
If we put ourselves in the Egyptian administration’s shoes, its perspective indicates that Egypt did its best by sending naval forces and soldiers in the Yemeni quagmire, despite the high price Egypt paid in 1967. This makes it as if the Egyptian administration does not learn from history, especially that the situation now is worsened by the fact that Egypt is now surrounded with militias from all directions.
This is besides that the cost of the war is very high, at $300m a day, according to The Economist. The Egyptian administration says, “If you wanted obedience, proceed with what is possible.”
These are four issues. Others are yet to come.