The muted tension between Egypt and Kuwait has escalated recently, in a way that threatens the loss of an important regional ally and a financial supporter who has pumped billions of dollars as deposits and investments into the arteries of the Egyptian economy.
The Egyptian regime and Kuwait exchanged expressions of attack through the media and politicians loyal to each regime. The attack of media professionals loyal to the Egyptian regime on Kuwait is a rare event, as the Egyptian regime has consistently curbed its media over the past years on Kuwait, considering it an important ally. But during the recent crisis, it seemed that some members of the media, who speak only under the orders of the regime, had a green light to attack Kuwait.
Moustafa Bakri, the Egyptian Member of Parliament, attacked the recent Kuwaiti calls for the expulsion of foreign workers. Bakri warned, via Twitter, of what he described as “sowing discord” between the Egyptian and Kuwaiti people. Bakri addressed those who said that they are “promoting the expulsion of Egyptian workers from Kuwait, and accusing the Egyptians of spreading chaos and the corona epidemic,” saying, “be ashamed of yourselves, we will not tell you what Egypt and the Egyptians have done to Kuwait, this is our role, and Kuwait is a brotherly Arab country.”
In an unmistakable criticism, Bakri said, “I did not see this attack on the Egyptians in any other Gulf country. These people sow discord between the two peoples at the expense of the interests of the two countries. Their goals are malicious and political.” The Egyptian parliamentarian added, “But the question is why the government of Kuwait is silent about insulting the Egyptian people and the aggression on the Egyptian state and its leadership. This silence is unacceptable.” “The Egyptian people are a people with dignity and respect for others, but we will not accept this ridiculous insult.”
Observers see Moustafa Bakri as one of the spokespersons for the Egyptian regime, but unofficially, and journalists say that Bakri would not have attacked Kuwait without the prior consent of the Egyptian regime.
On the other hand, the Kuwaiti National Assembly witnessed, last week, harsh criticism of the Egyptian government, due to the crisis of its citizens stranded in the Kuwaiti territory after the outbreak of the coronavirus. The turmoil, caused by angry Egyptians inside Kuwait last month, sparked outrage in Kuwait. Egyptian protesters demanded to be deported quickly to Cairo, criticising the deterioration of their conditions without their government doing anything to deport them.
The Kuwaiti security forces responded decisively to these protests and arrested a number of protesters, before the government began developing communications with Egypt, to resolve the crisis of the stranded people. The stranded Egyptians have been deported, but at the expense of Kuwait, which incurred all the costs of returning the stranded, which Kuwaitis considered as blackmail from the Egyptian government.
Kuwaiti MP Ahmed al-Fadl attacked the Egyptian government after revealing that it was Kuwait that had borne the expenses of evacuating the stranded Egyptians, and accused it of blackmailing Kuwait, describing the Egyptian regime behaviour as “despicable”. Ahmed al-Fadl held the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs responsible for responding to the Egyptian government, without explicitly mentioning it. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs bears full responsibility, as do all of our sovereign funds that invest in those countries. We must have a response, if I do not find you with me at the time of need, then at the time of prosperity I do not need you, and at the time of goodness I do not want you,” said al-Fadl.
Al-Fadl said that Egypt had “brought down the meaning of Arabism, the meaning of brotherhood and the meaning of historical relations.” Ahmed al-Fadl excluded the Egyptian people from the attack, which he described as bait used by their government to blackmail Kuwait.
The spokesperson for the Egyptian Cabinet, Nader Saad, admitted that Kuwait exempted all the stranded Egyptians from bearing the cost of travel, and paid for them to stay in hotels designated for quarantine. Nader Saad added that the past two days witnessed the return of more than 1,100 Egyptian citizens from Kuwait, on five flights.
Kuwaiti newspapers revealed that the Egyptian government stipulated Kuwait to evacuate the stranded Egyptians through Egypt Air, for 170 Kuwaiti dinars ($550) per person, in addition to the Kuwaiti government bearing an additional $2,000 dollars per person in exchange for staying in quarantine hotels in the Egyptian city of Marsa Alam.
Financial and political support
Observers say that Kuwait was one of the most important financial supporters of the Egyptian regime since its inception, even if its role partially receded recently. Although the Kuwaiti regime retreated from being at the forefront of the supporters of the Egyptian regime, it did not pressure the Egyptian regime to withdraw its deposits and investments from Egypt.
Observers say that if Kuwait decided to withdraw its billions from Egypt, this would cause a major problem for the Egyptian regime. Egyptian opponents also consider that the Egyptian regime still enjoys political support from Kuwait. For example, during the year 2019, Kuwait deported eight Egyptian opponents, claiming that they belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egyptian opponents consider that if financial and political support is cut off from the fragile Egyptian system, this will cause many problems. During the past few years, the Kuwaiti role in supporting the regime of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has declined, while the UAE and Saudi Arabia have taken the lead.
The Gulf crisis
Observers say that Kuwaiti support for the Egyptian regime has declined in recent years for a number of reasons, which made the Emir of Kuwait realise that the Egyptian regime is receiving financial support without being a true ally. For example, the Egyptian regime supported the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, at a time when the Gulf states were stressing that the al-Assad regime should fall. But the strongest reason for the decline in Kuwaiti support was the Gulf crisis, as Kuwait plays the mediating role to end the crisis that worsened in June 2017.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain (In addition to Egypt) have boycotted Qatar, and closed their air and sea borders to Qatari ships and planes. While Kuwait tried to play a mediating role to end the crisis, the Egyptian regime worked in completely the opposite way and tried to keep the boycott of Qatar in place. Kuwait regards the Gulf issue as a private matter for the Gulf states, and no country outside the Gulf Cooperation Council countries should interfere in its internal affairs. Kuwait saw the Egyptian role as unacceptable interference that worked to break the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which prompted Kuwait to reconsider its support for Cairo.
Instead of Cairo retreating and allowing Kuwait to mediate for reform among the Gulf states, some Egyptian writers attacked Kuwait, and considered that the Emir of Kuwait should have supported Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Bahrain, not Qatar, according to their point of view. Although that attack did not last long it was echoed in the Kuwaiti capital and Kuwaiti officials watched what the Egyptian regime was doing uncomfortably. In 2019, it seemed that Kuwaiti-Egyptian relations began to return to their former state, when Kuwait handed over eight Egyptian opponents living on its territory to Cairo, claiming that they were from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Kuwait does not consider the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, which prompted observers to consider that this decision was made to satisfy Egypt. But after less than one year, the crisis of the Egyptians stranded in Kuwait came to reveal that the hidden tension in relations between the two countries still exists, and may escalate.