Egypt’s foreign affairs minister hit back at former Saudi minister and head of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for mocking President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at a conference in Tunis.
Head of the OIC Lyad Madani addressed Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi as Sisi at an education conference in Tunis on Thursday.
“Your highness, Beji Caid al-Sisi … sorry that was a flagrant mistake … I’m sure your fridge has more than just water,” Madani said to Essebsi in reference to contentious remarks Sisi made at a youth conference in Sharm el-Sheikh last week, when the Egyptian president claimed he had nothing in his fridge but water for ten years. “I stayed silent and never complained. Self honor is important,” Sisi said, addressing Egyptians complaining about deteriorating economic conditions.
Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Saturday that Madani’s comments were “gross,” and “not consistent with the duties and responsibilities of the head of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, directly affecting the scope of his work and his ability to carry out the duties of his position. This pushes Egypt to review its position towards dealing with the secretariat of the organization and its head,” he added.
Madani’s comments prompted outrage on social media, with Sisi supporters demanding his remarks be dealt with seriously.
“This is a minister, and he knows very well that he would never have done that if he were to be punished. No one speaks about pan Arabism any more. Instead of being so focused on Sisi’s fridge, go see the Houthis,” one angry user Tweeted, in reference to Saudi Arabia’s assault on Yemen.
دا وزير وعارف انو لو كان هيتعاقب مكنش قال كدة محدش يقول عروبه وزفت
بدل ما انت شاغل نفسك بتلاجه السيسى ركز مع الحوثيين #اياد_متني
— مصر هتفضل غاليه عليا (@rehabPress) October 28, 2016
“We Egyptians can insult and mock each other, that’s ok. But anyone insulting us will be split in two,” another user said.
احنا كمصريين نشتم نسخر نغلط بينا وبين بعض آمين ، لكن حد يتطاول علينا معلش نشقه اتنين !
هي كده #اياد_متني
— الْمِسِّيري (@iMissiery) October 28, 2016
Others didn’t perceive Madani’s remarks as offensive.
“Sisi is not Egypt, and insults against him are not insults against Egypt,” one Twitter user asserted.
السيسى مش مصر وتهزيقه مش تهزيق لمصر ولا حاجة
— ahmet (@ahmet_tery1) October 28, 2016
At first, Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a slightly angry statement, referring to Madani’s comments as “unfortunate rhetoric.” The Ministry urged its representative at the OIC to officially object to the behavior of the organization’s head. In return, the OIC was quick to issue a formal apology.
Madani said his remarks were made out of humor and were not intended to insult Sisi, describing him as, “an experienced Arab leader.”
“Egypt’s earlier presidency over the OIC gave Madani the chance to meet President Sisi several times, when he listened to his vision on strengthening common Islamic cooperation and solidarity,” the statement added.
Egypt-Saudi relations have worsened recently, after the Saudi petroleum supplier Aramco halted the supply of petro products to Egypt this month. Aramco’s decision followed Egypt voting in favor of a resolution on Syria, presented by Russia and rejected by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations, at the recent United Nations Security Council meeting in New York. Egypt’s move was seen as a direct change in foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia, which has transferred billions of dollars in aid to Egypt since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Saudi Arabia’s Representative to the United Nations, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, criticized Egypt’s vote for the Russian resolution, describing the decision as “painful.” Sisi dismissed links between Aramco’s decision and Egypt’s vote in a televised speech.
At the time, Saudi media figures mocked Sisi for relying heavily on Saudi financial aid. Analysts have viewed recent developments as an indicator of rising tensions between the two countries, resulting from disagreements on a number of regional issues, particularly concerning Syria and Yemen.