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Egypt's Sisi makes unexpected visit to Saudi Arabia, after royal shake-up

The Egyptian president will visit Saudi Arabia to congratulate senior Saudi royals on being made heirs to the throne by King Salman
King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia (L) and President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt (R) (AFP)

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, three days after a major royal shakeup in the oil-rich kingdom.

On Wednesday, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz named a new crown prince, deputy crown prince and foreign minister.

President Sisi will extend his congratulations to Prince Mohamed bin Nayef for his appointment as Saudi Arabia's heir apparent, and to Prince Mohamed bin Salman for being named deputy crown prince, the Egyptian presidency said in a statement.

He was welcomed at the Riyadh Airbase Airport by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, according to the official SPA news agency.

The Egyptian leader is expected to hold talks with King Salman on bilateral relations and a host of issues of mutual concern, the agency said.

Saturday's visit is the third made by Sisi to Saudi Arabia this year.

Riyadh welcomed the 2013 popularly backed military coup that saw the ousting of Egypt’s first elected president Mohammed Morsi, and has been a key financial backer of the subsequent Sisi administration.

However, since King Salman took the reins of power in January after his brother Abdullah died, signs of tension between the two countries have arisen.

While official statements have maintained that ties are close, prominent media figures from both countries have recently been engaged in a tit-for-tat public spat over Riyadh’s apparent change of policy direction under Salman.

Senior Saudi media commentators have pinned the policy divergence on Saudi Arabia having changed its regional priorities, by focusing on the perceived threat of expanded Iranian influence in several countries rather than continuing to target the Muslim Brotherhood for repression. In Egypt Sisi's far-reaching crackdown on the Brotherhood has been a central policy of his time in power.

“Saudi Arabia has moved on from the ‘the obsession’ with the Muslim Brotherhood,” Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist and general manager of al-Arab satellite TV, recently told MEE.

Riyadh’s representative in Cairo has responded to criticism of the kingdom in Egyptian media by filing a complaint to President Sisi, according to reports on Friday.

In an interview on the Gulf channel Khaleejna TV, Ambassador Ahmed Kattan said: “I informed the Egyptian presidency there is a lot of anger in the kingdom,” referring to what has been described by Saudi commentators as serious slurs being made against the country.

Criticism in Egyptian media of Saudi Arabia has targeted Riyadh’s warming relations with Turkey, where vocal Morsi supporter Recep Tayyip Erdogan is president, and included attacks on King Salman’s military intervention in Yemen.

Leaks allegedly from Sisi’s office have purported to reveal that media figures in Egypt act as conduits for views of the former army chief turned president.

When revealing his complaint, Saudi Ambassador Kattan said that “the [Egyptian] presidency assured me that this is an issue of utmost importance to President Sisi himself.”

Sisi's visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday, which was not announced in advance, is expected to last no more than a few hours. 

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