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Egypt a playground for Gulf powers

world Updated: Jul 11, 2013 02:01 IST

Two of the Persian Gulf's richest monarchies pledged $8 billion in cash and loans to Egypt on Tuesday, a decision that was aimed not only at shoring up a shaky transitional government but also at undermining their Islamist rivals and strengthening their allies across a newly turbulent Middle East.

The package announced by Saudi Arabia and the UAE came a day after the Egyptian military killed dozens of Muslim Brotherhood members protesting last week's military ouster of Islamist president, Md Morsi. The aid underscored a continuing regional contest for influence between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, one that has accelerated since the Arab uprising upended the status quo and brought Islamists to power.

Qatar, in alliance with Turkey, has given strong financial and diplomatic support to the Muslim Brotherhood but also to other Islamists operating on the battlefields of Syria and, before that, Libya. Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, by comparison, have sought to restore the old, authoritarian order, fearful that Islamist movements and calls for democracy would destabilize their own nations.

The promise to provide so much assistance also highlighted the limits of US leverage: The US provides Egypt $1.5 billion in annual aid, a fraction of what the gulf states have promised. But the gulf intervention contrasted sharply with the Obama administration's uncertainty about how to respond to last week's military takeover and, more broadly, how to wield influence across an increasingly chaotic and fragmented Arab world where US interests are hard to define.