Egyptian, Bahraini leaders exchange praise, strategies

Bahrain's king visited Egypt's president last week to discuss national and regional security efforts, Iranian interventionism and bilateral cooperation.

al-monitor Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa attends the Arab Summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 31, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed.

Nov 15, 2019

CAIRO — Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa traveled to Egypt on Nov. 7 and met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for the second time this year. The men touched on crises plaguing some Arab countries and efforts to combat terrorism and extremism.

After the visit, the Egyptian presidency issued a statement noting how the Bahraini king had praised “Egypt's pioneering historical role in protecting Arab ... security, defending Arab issues and interests, and strengthening the foundations of peace, security and stability in the Middle East region.” The king further stressed his keenness to develop new bilateral cooperation with Egypt in various fields.

During the meeting, Sisi reiterated Egypt's “unwavering stance toward the security of the Arabian Gulf region as an integral part of Egypt's national security.”

Khalifa also had met with Sisi in May in Cairo to discuss bilateral cooperation and regional challenges. The visit coincided with the assault on four vessels near the United Arab Emirates (UAE) coast. The UAE announced June 7 that an investigation showed “a state” had carried out the attacks, but officials have yet to name the alleged perpetrator. On May 29, then-US national security adviser John Bolton accused Iran of being behind the assault. On the same day, Tehran ridiculed the accusation.

At the time, Sisi and Khalifa agreed to strengthen their cooperation to address regional threats and interventions in the affairs of Gulf and Arab countries.

Ambassador Rakha Hassan, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, told Al-Monitor the Bahraini king’s recent visit had two main objectives. The first was to strengthen bilateral relations in trade and joint investments. Faraj Amer, chairman of the Egyptian parliament's Industry Committee, had estimated in a Sept. 30 statement that the trade exchange between Egypt and Bahrain stands at about $165 million annually. He noted the balance tilts in favor of Egypt, which exports furniture, vegetables and legumes to Bahrain.

The second objective of the meeting was to discuss "the situations in the Gulf region and their impact on Bahrain, especially as Bahrain is in constant confrontation with Iran," Hassan said. “Tehran always tries to interfere in its internal affairs.”

Iran is involved in the Yemeni crisis, which Sisi and Khalifa also addressed, Hassan said. Both Egypt and Bahrain are members of a Saudi-led coalition that supports the internationally recognized government in Yemen as opposed to the Houthi rebels supported by Iran. In addition, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) in Yemen has been working toward secession. On Nov. 5, Riyadh hosted a signing ceremony for a power-sharing agreement between the Yemeni government and the UAE-backed separatist STC to resolve the conflict between them. Both of those Yemeni groups still oppose the Houthis.

Sisi and Khalifa praised the Riyadh agreement, describing it as “a pivotal step in the course of resolving the Yemeni crisis and reinforcing Yemen's unity.”

As for Egyptian-Bahraini ties, a report published Nov. 7 on the Egyptian government's website, Al-Ahram, cited them as a model for friendly Arab bilateral relations, encompassing complex political and economic layers.

Al-Monitor spoke to Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University, who affirmed that Khalifa’s visits reflect each country's concern for the other's internal situations. “During the meeting, Egypt focused on political stability in Bahrain and rejected Iran’s interference in the security of the Arab Gulf states," he said.

“Egyptian-Gulf relations are growing in crescendo in light of common regional challenges, especially Iranian interventions, which threaten the stability of Bahrain and other Gulf countries. Egypt has always rejected foreign interference in the affairs of the region. Discussions at the meeting focused on terrorism and violence amid repeated assaults on oil tankers in recent months in the Arabian Gulf.”

Fahmi noted, “Egypt is always keen on holding joint drills with Bahrain and other Gulf countries and on exchanging expertise with Gulf armies to help them better face challenges. This is crucial in light of the imminent risks in the Gulf region and the Middle East in general.”

The most recent joint naval and air drill between Egypt and Bahrain (Hamad-3) lasted several days, ending Jan. 28. It demonstrated "the ability of both countries' naval units to position themselves precisely and quickly, and their continued combat readiness to … deal with hostile naval targets with high efficiency,” read a statement released by the Egyptian armed forces.

“Egypt seems to have become closer to the Gulf countries more than ever before,” Fahmi concluded.

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