A prominent pro-regime Egyptian journalist made several criticisms of Saudi Arabia, his country’s main financial backer, under its new monarch. He incurred the wrath of thousands of Saudis on Twitter.
Ibrahim Issa, who has close ties to the regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, infuriated Saudis with his remarks, couched in dispassionate, matter-of-fact terms, about what he called the kingdom’s “widely-known record as a prime source of funding for armed groups in Syria and Iraq".
Under Sisi, Egyptian media, state and private alike, largely abide by the regime’s directives; for this reason, Issa’s remarks on such a highly sensitive issue like the country’s ties with Saudi Arabia may reflect the official line.
The hashtag #EgyptianmediaattacksSaudiArabia drew over 70,000 tweets, mostly voicing a scathing response to Issa’s remarks on his daily programme on the private Egyptian channel ONTV (also viewed on YouTube and widely shared).
Issa spoke of a shift in the Saudi policy towards Egypt since the passing of King Abdallah, who was Sisi’s main regional ally and wealthy Gulf benefactor.
“For Saudi Arabia, it is important that the Egyptian economy does not collapse and Egyptian policy remains strong,” he said.
Saudi Arabia is likely to continue to support Egypt, he contended, though with much less enthusiasm than under King Abdallah.
In the context of speaking about US-Saudi ties under King Salman, Issa said: “Let’s be frank, Saudi Arabia has been funding Syrian armed groups, and Al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al-Qaida in Syria.”
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey “funded the bloodshed in Syria, let’s be honest about it…All this information is well known and widely published,” he said.
King Abdallah, eventually, had to take a harsh approach to many Saudi religious scholars, “even the official ones, who actually say the same thing as ISIS and Al-Nusra”, Issa said.
He cited figures indicating that “90 percent of suicide bombings in Syria and Iraq are committed by Saudis…There is a powder keg in Saudi Arabia”.
In further remarks that could be indicative of Egypt’s anticipation of a Saudi policy shift, Issa said any such shift did not really matter.
“Egypt’s policies should not remain hostage to a feeling of gratitude [to Gulf countries], although we are thankful to anyone who supported us, even with words."
Issa’s remarks drew thousands of tweets, mostly by Saudis, criticizing not only Issa but the “needy” Egypt and Sisi’s “coup” against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
@Official3ziz shared a tweet by @Iranian Affairs saying “Iran seeks better ties with Egypt as evidenced by several statements by Iranian officials in the past few days.”
“Come on, give them [Egypt] money or someone else will,” ‘Official3ziz tweeted.
@Saad Al-Twaym wrote: “This is 100 percent state media funded by Sisi’s government with our money.”
@Abdallah Melhem tweeted: “This Ibrahim Issa, the mouthpiece of the coup, is offending us and accusing us of sponsoring terrorism.”
A few tweets, including one by Saudi writer Jamal Khashoshji, attacked Arab liberals, Issa being one of them.
Mohamed al-Rashid tweeted: “Al Arabiya TV cancelled two programmes on Egyptian affairs”, in reference to the Saudi-funded private channel, which had, until recently, been giving voice to Sisi’s supporters and generally damning of Morsi’s rule.
Al Arabiya has a new general manager under King Salman’s massive shakeup.
@Abou Yaqoup tweeted: “Egyptians respect money….the time of Al-Tuwaijri is over”, in reference to Khalid al Tuwaijri, the secretary general of King Abdallah’s royal court, who was among those sidelined in the shake-up.
Al-Tuwaijri, a power broker under the late monarch, was believed to be Sisi’s staunch ally.
A tweet from #Zafir Fahd al-Zayani was retweeted hundreds of times.
“To the people of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, beware of the hashtag #EgyptianmediaattacksSaudiArabia…It is explosive...there is a hidden hand trying to drive a wedge between the two nations.”