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Sisi meets Bahraini king to 'diffuse Egypt-Saudi tensions'

Ties frayed between Egypt and Saudi Arabia amid disagreements over Syria [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 March, 2017

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President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt is reportedly due to meet King Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifah of Bahrain to patch up an ongoing rift between Cairo and Riyadh.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will meet with King Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifah of Bahrain to discuss a possible end to an ongoing rift between Cairo and Riyadh, government sources have said.

The leaders will meet in Cairo on Monday to discuss recent developments in the Middle East as well as relations between Bahrain and Egypt, according Egyptian state media reported.

But an Egyptian government source told The New Arab that the meeting will mostly centre around try and patch up damaged relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia ahead of the annual Arab League summit on Wednesday.

"Bahrain is the closest Gulf country to Saudi Arabia and it has a strong relationship with Egypt, putting it in a position to mediate," the source said who requested anonymity because they were unauthorised to speak to reporters.

He said that the meeting will address the importance of Saudi King Salman's meeting with Sisi on the sidelines of the upcoming Arab summit and should begin the process of "breaking the ice" between the two countries.

"The Gulf states think it is essential that at this time there must be no disputes with Egypt so Arab countries can focus on ending the ongoing crisis in the region and curbing Iran's growing influence," the source added.

The Sisi regime was supported with billions of dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia in the immediate aftermath of the 2013 military coup against former Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Morsi.

Cracks soon emerged amid disagreements over Syria and other issues.

Saudi Arabia is a leading supporter of the Syrian opposition, while Egypt, fearful of Islamist militants among the rebels' ranks, has pushed for a political solution keeping Assad in power.

Read also: Turbulent times for Saudi-Egyptian relations

King Salman has also sought closer ties with Turkey and Qatar, which have tense relations with Egypt.

On another contentious point, Saudi Arabia had hoped, in vain, that Egypt might contribute ground troops to a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

In October, Saudi Arabia abruptly suspended oil aid to Egypt just days after Cairo backed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria drafted by Bashar al-Assad's ally Russia.

Under the initial oil deal, Saudi Arabia agreed in April 2016 to provide Egypt with 700,000 tonnes of fuel monthly for five years on easy repayment terms.

The shipments resumed several days ago, signalling possible rapprochement that might be sealed at the summit.

Amr Adly, a Cairo-based analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said the two countries have different priorities, with Saudi Arabia focused on containing its main regional rival, Iran.

Egypt, meanwhile, seeks to combat the Muslim Brotherhood, a region-wide movement that Cairo views as a terrorist group.

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