October 12, 2016 - 8:48 AM
CAIRO - Egypt says it has secured fuel imports to make up for a shortfall caused by Saudi Arabia's abrupt decision to halt previously agreed shipments, avoiding a potentially politically costly fuel shortage and propelling the issue of oil onto the centre stage of an escalating Saudi-Egypt spat.
Saudi Arabia agreed in April to provide Egypt with 700,000 tons of fuel monthly for five years on easy repayment terms, but Egyptian officials said this week that Saudi Arabia's Aramco, the world's largest oil company, informed Cairo it would not ship any fuel this month.
Oil Ministry spokesman Hamdi Abdel-Aziz was quoted by Egyptian newspapers Wednesday as saying that several fuel shipments from other suppliers have arrived in Egypt following "urgent" tenders.
There has been no official word from Saudi Arabia on the abrupt halt of shipments, a decision that appears linked to a public spat between the two allies over Syria.
Egypt's vote in favour of separate Russian and French draft resolutions on Syria at the U.N. Security Council over the weekend has apparently angered the Saudis, who oppose Russia's military intervention in Syria and support some of the anti-government militant groups there.
Recently, Egypt has been moving closer to Russia, harshly condemned by the Saudis and other Arabs for its heavy-handed military intervention in Syria.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is moving closer to Turkey, which Egypt accuses of backing Islamic militants seeking to topple the Cairo government.
Continuing tension between Egypt and Saudi Arabia would signal a realignment of Mideast power centres and rob the mostly Sunni Arab world of a valuable axis in the face of expanding influence by non-Arab Iran and Turkey.
Egyptian columnist Abdullah el-Sennawy criticized Egypt's decision to vote for both resolutions at the Security Council, describing it in an article in the Al-Shorouq daily as diplomatically "inappropriate."
But "there is nothing to justify any Saudi haughtiness, either with loose diplomatic talk or the suspension of oil shipments as economic punishment," he added.
The Security Council spat was the first public quarrel between Riyadh and Cairo since the Egyptian military's 2013 ouster of an Islamist president and the subsequent flow of billions of dollars in Saudi aid that kept Egypt's ailing economy afloat.
But relations have cooled since King Salman sought closer ties with Turkey and Qatar, two countries whose relations with Egypt are fraught with animosity.
Beside Syria, other issues divide Cairo and Riyadh. Saudi Arabia had expected Egypt to send ground troops as part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, something Cairo has failed to do.
The Saudis have also been angered by meetings between Egyptian officials and representatives of Yemen's Iran-backed Shiite rebels. Egypt has also maintained channels of communication with Tehran and enjoys close relations with Iraq's Shiite-led, Iranian-backed government, another Saudi adversary.
In addition, popular opposition in Egypt to an April decision by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to relinquish control of two key Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia has injected a sour note into relations.
Later Wednesday, Saudi ambassador to Egypt, Ahmed Qatan, left Cairo for Riyadh but was expected to return to the Egyptian capital over the weekend, according to airport officials.
It was not immediately clear whether his departure was linked to the Saudi-Egypt spat. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016