Saudi Arabia is the largest contributor to a $12 billion aid package pledged by gulf countries since the July 3 coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi, dwarfing the $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid that congressional leaders are pressuring the Obama administration to suspend.
But the unusually bold foray into foreign policy represents a big risk for the traditionally staid and cautious kingdom, jeopardizing its reputation as the leader of the Muslim world, reigniting a simmering power struggle with rivals Qatar and Turkey, and potentially harming its relationship with Washington.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, portrayed the struggle in Egypt in almost existential terms Monday, referring to the country as “our second homeland” and emphasizing that Saudi Arabia will never allow it to be destabilized.
“Concerning those who announced stopping their assistance to Egypt or threatening to stop them, the Arab and Islamic nation is rich with its people and capabilities and will provide a helping hand to Egypt,” Faisal told the official Saudi news agency while on a visit to France.
Faisal’s pledge followed a rare foreign policy address on Friday, in which Saudi Arabia’s aging King Abdullah praised the actions of the Egyptian military and accused demonstrators of “terrorism, extremism and sedition.”
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Obama administration has made no decision to hold up economic or military aid to Egypt, although both programs are under review. “That review is ongoing,” she said. “But we have not made a decision to put a blanket hold.”
That Saudi Arabia is prepared to confront Washington over the crisis is an indicator of how deeply Saudi leaders were unsettled by the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood consolidating its hold over the Arab world’s most populous nation, analysts say.
“It’s not about expansionism,” said Gamal Soltan, a professor of political science at the American University of Cairo. “The Saudis are doing these things out of fear rather than greed.”
But at a time when many Arabs are growing queasy at the high human cost of the crackdown, “this is an enormous gamble for the king,” said Christopher Davidson, professor of Middle East history at Durham University in England. “Saudi Arabia is putting itself in direct confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has broad regional sympathy across the region.”