Saudi-backed Yemeni president cuts Cairo visit short after being summoned to Riyadh
Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi - Courtesy: Yemeni Embassy Facebook page

The visit of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the president of the internationally backed Yemeni government, to Cairo was abruptly cut short on Wednesday after he received an urgent request to return to the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, where he currently resides, according to a Yemeni source connected to the visit.

The source tells Mada Masr that Hadi, who is backed by the Saudi-led military coalition, was meant to stay in Egypt for four days.

Hadi arrived in Egypt on Monday for the visit, which, according to the Yemeni Embassy in Cairo, was supposed to last for “several days.” During this time, he met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel Aal.

However, with the visit being cut short, the Yemeni Embassy canceled a press conference by Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, which was scheduled for Wednesday. The embassy informed journalists and media officials that Yamani was required to accompany Hadi to Riyadh. 

One day before Hadi left Egypt on Wednesday, Sisi traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he met with King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the site of Saudi Arabia’s NEOM project. The Egyptian president was accompanied by Abbas Kamel, the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS). Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, however, was not in attendance at the meeting.

During the visit, Hadi demanded that Sisi expand Egypt’s role in managing the Yemeni crisis, the Yemeni source adds. Hadi also conveyed the concerns of the legitimacy delegation, a leadership coalition backing Hadi’s claim to the presidency, regarding the continuation of the current situation on the ground, which favors Iranian and Houthi — an Iran-aligned Shia armed group that took over the capital of Sanaa in 2014 — interests.

According to the source, Cairo pledged to increase the effectiveness of its role in securing the Red Sea and to intervene politically to resolve the Yemeni conflict.

The Saudi-led military coalition began operations in Yemen in March 2015, targeting Houthi forces and those loyal to ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was killed by Houthi militants in December 2017.

The coalition was formerly composed of ten countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Senegal and Saudi Arabia. Last June, the coalition expelled Qatar, after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain’s decision to sever all diplomatic ties with Qatar.

Egypt has repeatedly extended its participation in the Saudi-led coalition through the issuance of statements from its National Defense Council.

“The National Defense Council agreed during the meeting to extend the participation of the required elements from the Egyptian armed forces in a combat operation outside the nation’s border to defend Egyptian and Arab national security in the Gulf, Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab areas,” reads a statement issued by the council in January 2017.

Mada Masr spoke to two Egyptian diplomats about the visit, one of whom says the expected outcomes of the visit had been exaggerated.

There were already expectations that Egypt would increase its support for Hadi’s side, the source tells Mada Masr. However, promises of additional support would be carefully calculated, given Egypt’s awareness that the Saudi-led coalition may face problems with international law due to the serious humanitarian issues in Yemen.

The visit follows an airstrike allegedly carried out by the coalition last Thursday that hit a school bus in the Saada province, killing 51 people, including 40 children, according to a statement released on Twitter by the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ delegation in Yemen.

The second diplomatic source says that the visit aimed to enhance an interest shared by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as another undisclosed “regional party,” to secure the Red Sea. This concern began during the maritime border demarcation agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which resulted in Egypt ceding the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to the kingdom.

Although the source declined to identify the “other regional party,” statements of Israeli officials on the same issue are in line with these moves. Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted at a naval parade in Haifa that Israel will not allow tampering of Red Sea navigational channels, in response to the July 25 attack by Houthi forces on several Saudi ships in the Red Sea that Riyadh stated were oil tankers.

The source added that the issue of securing navigation through the Red Sea was a key issue in talks held by Kamel in Washington DC a few days ago. He noted that the issue is not related to Iranian influence as much as it stems from the interest of the three countries to secure the Saudi NEOM project, which involves several countries.

Asmahan Soliman 

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