Egypt finds other sources after halt in Saudi fuel shipments

In this March 28, 2015 file photo provided by Egypt’s state news agency MENA, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, talks with Saudi King Salman after the king arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Close allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia are having their first public spat since Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took office two years ago. The disagreement is over Syria, where Riyadh says Syrian President Bashar Assad must be removed for that country’s civil war to end, while Cairo advocates a political process that denies Islamic militants any role in Syria’s future. Egypt voted in favor of separate Russian and French draft resolutions on Syria at the U.N. Security Council on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016.

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 center 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 favor 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 centers 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.