A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Morsi in Saudi Arabia: Wrong Trip, Wrong Timing?

Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi has left for Saudi Arabia on his first foreign visit since his inauguration. He leaves right in the middle of a constitutional crisis largely of his own making, and may be sending the wrong message at the wrong time.

On paper, the visit makes sense: Morsi wants to re-forge fraying ties with Riyadh and rebuild a onetime alliance with the Saudis; he also wants to reassure the Saudis about Iran's gestures of friendship to Egypt now that the Muslim Brotherhood has the Presidency.

But the Brotherhood's opponents in Egypt (and remember, Morsi got barely a quarter of the votes in the first round) suspect him of aiming to turn Egypt into something along the lines of the Saudi model, and others believe Saudi funding helped elect Morsi. (Officially, the Saudis have problems with the MB, though it isn't the sort of open propaganda campaign waged by the UAE against the Egyptian Brotherhood. But many private Saudis support the Brotherhood.) Leaving in the middle of a confrontation with the judiciary (and indirectly, SCAF) adds to the sense that Morsi is going to ask for seek support from his Saudi patrons at a difficult time.

Going anywhere in the midst of a crisis is a questionable call. Eleven days after taking office there is still no Prime Minister and not a single cabinet member named, except for the assurance (not really Morsi's call) that Field Marshal Tantawi will remain Defense Minister. The interim Cabinet of Prime Minister Ganzuri is presumably on its way out, the country is in a crisis, and the President is in Saudi Arabia.

I'd say it's the wrong trip, and any trip at this time is shows questionable judgment. His opponents — who may sense weakness right now — are unlikely to miss that.

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