Newly crowned as Egypt’s first democratically elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi departed on his first trip abroad this week. The destination? Saudi Arabia. There is a temptation to view this as a trip by one Islamist to visit powerful nearby friends who are also conservative Islamists. In reality, the Saudis have never liked the Muslim Brotherhood (Morsi, a longtime leader in the Brotherhood, renounced his membership before assuming the presidency), and they are still wary of the implications of democratic, Islamist governance. WSJ:
“Saudi Arabia will receive President Morsi as president of Egypt. We don’t receive him as a representative of Ikhwan,” said Abdullah al-Shammri, a Saudi political analyst close to the government, using the Arabic for the Muslim Brotherhood. “Saudi Arabia cares about his practices, his policies. It will not care about his background.”
Tensions are high. The Saudi royalty and their clerical allies fear the Muslim Brotherhood and its democratic aspirations, just as they dislike and fear the Turkish Islamists. Morsi’s trip is designed to reassure his country’s primary benefactors (the Saudis have spent more than $1 billion to prop up Egypt’s economy during the recent turmoil) that Egypt will not become friendly with Iran and that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood will not meddle in Saudi domestic politics.The takeaway here is that the new, more Islamist Middle East will be no more united and peaceful than the old one. Egyptian and Saudi conservatives, despite similar religious beliefs and cultural traditions, are not the best of friends. Islamists are no more capable of uniting than the secular Arab nationalists were.And so far, the Arab Islamists do not look any better equipped than their predecessors to solve their countries’ economic problems.