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Saudi King Salman's closer Turkey, Qatar ties pressure Egypt

| Monday, March 9, 2015, 8:12 p.m.

CAIRO — Under its new monarch, Saudi Arabia appears to be moving to improve relations with Turkey and Qatar and soften its stance against the Muslim Brotherhood with the aim of weakening Iran. The shift could lead to pressure on its ally Egypt to reconcile with them as well.

The pressure, however, threatens to open frictions within the alliance between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two of the Middle East's strongest Sunni countries. Under the late Saudi King Abdullah, who died in January, the two nations increased their cooperation against terrorists, the Brotherhood and the influence of Shiite Iran in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi has appeared to resist any reconciliation with Turkey and Qatar, the two top regional backers of Sisi's No. 1 nemesis, the Muslim Brotherhood. Sisi rose to the presidency after, as army chief, he led the military's 2013 ouster of Mohamed Morsy, a Brotherhood leader elected Egypt's president a year earlier.

Since the ouster, Sisi has led a fierce crackdown on Islamists, crushing the Brotherhood and branding it a terrorist organization, while Egyptian media have depicted Turkey and Qatar as trying to destabilize Egypt by backing the group.

The new Saudi king, Salman, who rose to throne when his half brother Abdullah died Jan. 23, appears to view the greater threat as Iran or terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State. Turkey and Qatar could give a boost to a front against those opponents.

As part of their growing alliance, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf nations have given Egypt billions of dollars to prop up its crippled economy.

Still, there have been divergences between Egypt and Saudi Arabia — particularly over Syria. Saudi Arabia seeks the removal of Iranian-backed Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Sisi, meanwhile, consistently has avoided saying whether Egypt objects to Assad's remaining in power.

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