Egypt Pulls Troops Out of Regional Force

POSTWAR Arab security plans for the Gulf appear in jeopardy following Egypt's decision to end the deployment of troops in the region. ``Egypt has decided to withdraw all its forces from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait,'' President Hosni Mubarak said yesterday. The pullout was expected to be completed by August. The transport of troops home, he said, had actually begun one month ago.''

Egypt's more than 38,000 troops were the second largest deployment, after the United States, to Operation Desert Storm. And thousands of Egyptian soldiers were expected to remain in Saudi Arabia as part of a permanent defense force.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, announced agreement with Syria and Egypt on an Arab security force for the Gulf in March.

Soldiers from the Egyptian and Syrian armies were to form the nucleus of the force. In return, the oil-rich Gulf states would provide all financing, including increasing economic support for the two countries.

But Mr. Mubarak made no mention of the security plan in yesterday's announcement and gave no reason for the decision to withdraw troops.

Regional analysts say that recent weeks have seen growing signs that Egypt was unhappy with the progress of security talks, in part because Cairo opposes Gulf calls for Iran's participation in the region's future defense. Egypt has repeatedly stated that the force must be ``all-Arab.''

Last weekend GCC countries met in Kuwait and later said they were holding ``intensive contacts'' with Iran over its involvement in regional security.

The apparent rift in the Arab alliance follows unprecedented cooperation between what was referred to as the Cairo-Riyadh-Damascus axis during the Gulf crisis.

Egypt is also critical of what it considers to be Saudi and Kuwaiti indifference toward their Arab allies.

Even before the launch of ground operations to liberate Kuwait, senior Egyptian officials were publicly calling for a rethink of relations between the oil-rich Gulf states and their poorer allies - Egypt in particular. In addition to the writing off of debt, Cairo sought increased economic aid.

Muhammad Said Ahmed, a respected political commentator here, says Saudi Arabia's monarchy was resisting the long-term presence of Arab troops on its soil.

``I don't think Egypt and the Gulf states are on the same wavelength,'' he says. ``First of all they don't want Egyptians. They would prefer foreign troops to Egyptians.... Even if Mubarak is a moderate in their eyes, there is no guarantee that things will remain that way. They don't want either Egyptians or Syrians.''

The common perception among ordinary Egyptians is that the Gulf Arabs are becoming more closed than open to their Arab neighbors.

``If the lesson of the Gulf war had led to some form of accountability, if not outright democracy [among feudal Gulf states] perhaps it would have been different. But now it's just the opposite - they're becoming more hard line,'' said Mr. Said Ahmed.

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