Egypt Cancels Arab Spring Tribute to Mourn Saudi King Abdullah

King Abdullah vociferously opposed the Arab Spring and propped up Egypt's military-backed government.


In the aftermath of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s death, world leaders are tripping over one another in their efforts to pay tribute to a man whose reign — and oil wealth — further cemented his country’s role as a regional power. Vice President Joe Biden is leading the American delegation to Abdullah’s funeral, and the leaders of Turkey and Jordan hustled to Riyadh.

But one country is outdoing them all in its efforts to lie prostrate before the corpse of Abdullah. Egypt, heavily dependent on Saudi financial aid, has announced a weeklong period of mourning. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi canceled his visit to Davos to rush to Abdullah’s Friday funeral, but bad weather in Switzerland kept him from making it.

And in a supreme piece of irony that sums up the regional order that Abdullah helped forge, Egypt announced it has canceled commemorations of the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution that resulted in Hosni Mubarak’s ouster from office.

Though he is being hailed today as a moderate reformer, Abdullah was also a force for stability in the Middle East and an enforcer of some parts of the status quo. He viewed the Arab Spring uprisings with deep suspicion and was dismayed to see the United States turn its back on old allies in Egypt and Tunisia as their governments fell amid intense street protests. When the Sunni government in Bahrain faced a threat from disenfranchised Shiites, Abdullah deployed tanks there to crush the uprising.

He was also fiercely opposed to the Obama administration’s ongoing attempts to restructure the Mideast’s traditional power dynamics by forging a historic nuclear deal with Iran, which has been engaged in a shadow war with the monarchy in countries across the region.

But nowhere has Abdullah’s displeasure at the developments of the Arab Spring been more evident than in Egypt, where Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars to prop up the current government, which has its origins in a military coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, which, in turn, emerged from the tumultuous protest movement that began in January 2011.

Four years later, that revolution is dead. The cancellation of its commemoration in favor of a memorial to the man who financed its destruction is an appropriate, if depressing, epitaph.


Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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