Egypt and Saudi Arabia have long been key allies but tensions over regional issues including Syria and Yemen have erupted into the open in rare public disagreements.
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The discord came to the surface when Egypt on Saturday voted in favour of a Russian-drafted UN Security Council resolution on Syria strongly opposed by Riyadh.
That was followed by Cairo’s announcement of Saudi oil giant Aramco’s surprise decision to halt the expected delivery of 700,000 tonnes of petroleum products to Egypt this month, forcing Egypt to rush out a call for tenders to make up the shortfall.
Analysts say the row – which threatens to distance Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi from one of his main backers -reflects longstanding disagreements on crucial regional issues.
“There is always talk that there is a strategic alliance between Cairo and Riyadh, and that is not true,” prominent Egyptian journalist and commentator Abdallah el-Sennawy said.
“A strategic alliance means an understanding on regional issues, which is something that does not exist in the Syrian and Yemeni files. The discord now has exploded and risen to the surface.”
Sisi has relied on Saudi support since the then army chief overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, with Riyadh since providing billions of dollars in aid and credit.
Saudi King Salman visited Cairo on a rare trip abroad in April, hailing Sisi and approving a slew of investment deals.
Even then, however, there were reports of Saudi frustration over Cairo’s reported reluctance to fully back Riyadh’s regional ambitions, in particular in its rivalry with Iran.
Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite-dominated Iran are opposed in a range of regional conflicts and disputes, in particular the wars in Syria and Yemen.
Cairo “does not see the threat of the Iranians” in the same way as Riyadh, said Saudi journalist and analyst Jamal Khashoggi.
“Saudi Arabia tolerated the Egyptian position over and over again, and I think what happened at the UN vote is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Khashoggi said.
Saudi bitterness at Cairo’s vote was clear when Riyadh’s envoy to the UN Abdullah al-Muallimi told Al-Jazeera: “It was painful for the Senegalese and Malaysian positions to be closer to the Arab consensus than that of the Arab representative.”
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