Why Saudi Arabia Loves the Egyptian Military

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

Editor’s Note: In an interview with the


, F. Gregory Gause, III looks at how the United States, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East are entangled and invested in Egypt’s violent struggle.

GlobalPost: Why did Saudi Arabia risk supporting a military that just killed hundreds of people?

Gregory Gause: There are a couple of reasons why the Saudis were very quick to support the military government. First, they’ve seen — at least since the Gulf War of 1990-1991 — the Muslim Brotherhood as an unfriendly group on a couple of grounds.

The Brotherhood supported Saddam Hussein, or at least they didn’t support the Saudis, a move he Saudis saw as going against what in the Fities and Sixties had been a pretty strong relationship with the Brotherhood.

The Saudis are also nervous about an elected Islamist government in their world, and that’s what the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt represented. The Saudis have always claimed to speak for Sunni Islam, and when you have an elected Islamist government, some people inside Saudi Arabia may start to think, “Why can’t we have an elected government?”

Secondly, the Saudis, at least for the last few decades, looked to Egypt as their most important Arab ally. And particularly in the last few years, Egypt was their most important Arab ally against what the Saudis saw as the Iranian threat.

But then Mubarak fell, and the Saudis felt they’d lost their strongest regional ally in their effort to balance against Iranian power. Now, I don’t think the Brotherhood government in Egypt was particularly pro-Iranian. But the Saudis are a lot more comfortable with the military government, or a military-supported government that will go back to being anti-Iranian.

GlobalPost: Why, in thinly veiled remarks directed at Qatar, had Saudi Arabia accused its neighbor of “fanning the fire of sedition and promoting terrorism?” What is the conflict between these two nations?

Gause: The Saudis and the Qataris for the past, I’d say, 10 years have had a rivalry of influence in the Arab world. First, Qatar established Al Jazeera, which opened the [Arab] information field. The news outlet was given a fairly wide berth to talk about things in every Arab country, except Qatar. That made the Saudis and a lot of other governments angry.

Qatar also made a strategic decision that the future of the region was going to be Islamist. So Qatar was supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis didn’t like that. They saw the Brotherhood as a potential threat, and thus they saw Qatar as supporting their threat.

All that is combined with the fact that the Saudis have always thought the smaller Gulf states should just follow their lead on political issues.

Read the full interview »