Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and de facto leader of the Gulf monarchy, begins a tour of international visits to the Middle East region with the intention of consolidating his position as a regional leader.
The first destination is Egypt, where bin Salman will arrive on Monday 20 June to meet with President Al-Sisi and his cabinet. The Saudi prince's diplomatic tour comes a month before US President Joe Biden's visit to the region.
According to sources close to the Saudi delegation quoted by Reuters, Biden's visit will be one of the important points bin Salman will discuss with his neighbours. Bin Salman is expected to achieve, or at least attempt to achieve, unity among the Arab countries in the region that are organised under the leadership of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the run-up to Biden's visit.
Looking ahead, negotiations on the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel are expected, along the lines of the Abraham agreements signed between the UAE, Bahrain and the State of Israel. Saudi Arabia would be the last major regional stakeholder to join the agreement, concluding a grand bargain vis-à-vis Iran and improving stability in the region.
In this sense, the visit to Egypt is key. As Sonia Sánchez Díaz, an expert in International Relations and lecturer at the Francisco de Vitoria University, explains, of all the Arab countries in the region, Egypt occupies a privileged position in its relations with Israel. Both states are aware that stability in the Gaza Strip depends on good relations between the two governments and effective cooperation. According to Sánchez Díaz, normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel is on the horizon. "The US is making a lot of efforts to ensure that in its disengagement strategy, the region is controlled and stabilised by an Israeli-Arab coalition," Sánchez Díaz notes.
Egypt's economic situation will also be a major topic in the two leaders' talks. The Egyptian economy has been badly wounded by the war in Ukraine and is in a state of crisis. It is currently the second country in the world that has requested the most money from the International Monetary Fund. Saudi Arabia's intervention in the Egyptian economy is key to the country's recovery. "Egypt right now does not have the financial infrastructure or support to stand on its own", Sánchez Díaz explains. It is expected that the meeting between Al-Sisi and Mohamed bin Salman will lead to the negotiation of new aid through the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, which has already lent large sums of money to the Egyptian government, exactly 5 billion dollars that Saudi Arabia deposited in the Egyptian Central Bank. Investments are also expected in the country to maintain its stability. Egypt is the world's largest wheat importer, and before the war in Ukraine it obtained 80 per cent of its wheat from the Kiev and Moscow markets. Now, Egypt faces a doubling of the price of bread, as well as dangerous inflation.
After Egypt, Mohammed bin Salman is scheduled to arrive in Turkey on 22 June to meet Recep Tayip Erdogan. This would be the first time the crown prince has visited Turkey since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. According to Sánchez Díaz, the visit to Turkey will have an essentially economic component. The Turkish lira continues to depreciate sharply. It remains to be seen whether relations between Riyadh and Ankara will improve with this visit. Erdogan's relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, his support for Qatar and connections with Iranian intelligence may be obstacles that will put distance between the two regional players. According to Sánchez Díaz, Riyadh would indeed have an interest in stopping Turkey's economy from plummeting. Bin Salman's tour is scheduled to end with a trip to Jordan, possibly also in preparation for Joe Biden's trip to the region in July.
According to the French news agency AFP, citing Saudi diplomatic sources, Mohammed bin Salman intends to continue his official visits in July and extend them to the Mediterranean. AFP spoke of trips to Algeria, Cyprus and Greece.
Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.