At a gathering of Arab leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh this weekend, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi read a letter from Vladimir Putin. “We support Arab nations in their effort to ensure a safe future and urge them to resolve all emerging challenges peacefully without any foreign involvement,” the Russian president’s message read, according to Sputnik News.
These comments did not go down well with those in attendance. In particular, Saudi Arabia, which accused the Russian leader of hypocrisy. “He speaks about the problems in the Middle East as though Russia is not influencing these problems,” Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said immediately after the letter was read.
In the increasingly complicated web of alliances in the Middle East and farther afield, Faisal’s comments highlight a noteworthy split. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are important allies; right now, they are partners in a joint Arab military intervention in Yemen, where Iran-backed Shiite rebels have toppled the government. And under the leadership of Sissi, Egypt has become increasingly close to Moscow and moved away from Washington.
But for Saudi Arabia – a stalwart U.S. ally and a powerful Sunni-led Arab state – relations with Russia have faced a distinct chill in the past few years. It’s an important fault line in a coalition formed by Sunni states to counter the influence of Iran, the region’s Shiite superpower – and it’s probably not the only one.