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High-ranking Syrian security official’s Cairo visit: Possible message to Saudi Arabia
Hunkering down: a poster of Syria's president at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Damascus, Jan. 14 2012. (E. Arrott/VOA)

Syria’s National Security Bureau head Ali al-Mamlouk met with a contingent of leading security officials in the Egyptian government, including the head of Egypt’s intelligence services Khaled Fawzy, on Monday.

Official Syrian news agency SANA, which first reported the visit, wrote that it aims to “coordinate official positions between Egypt and Syria, especially to strengthen counter terrorism efforts.”

Mamlouk’s visit to Cairo is not the first, with several media reports referring to an earlier visit where he met with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in August 2015. However, Monday’s visit was the first by a Syrian security official to coordinate political and security agendas that state-run media has publically announced.

A high-ranking Syrian diplomatic source, who asked to remain anonymous, told Mada Masr that, despite the importance for Egyptian-Syrian relations at a time when the situation in Syria is undergoing change, the visit has not introduced any new level of cooperation between the two countries.

“We have understood the Egyptian position since the beginning. We are two countries who have a crucial common history, especially concerning the military. We both face the same challenges of confronting local terrorism and international intentions to oust the current regime,” the source said. “The Syrian president has openly said this before, so this visit is not a surprise.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addressed the state of Egyptian-Syrian relations in an interview conducted last year the with Lebanon’s Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar television channel. “Communication between Egypt and Syria never stopped, even during the rule of former President Mohamed Morsi, because a number of institutions in Egypt refused to halt relations and continued communicating with Syria,” he said. “We heard a brotherly discourse.”

“Now this relationship exists but not publically, as we want. This is due to the fact that Egypt is an important country and is pressured not to play its actual role,” Assad said. “What I said concerning communication occurs at the level of direct communication between us and important officials, specifically security officials. Of course our experience in counter terrorism is profound, but Egypt has played a role in this since the 1950s. I would say to any Egyptian official or citizen that the relationship between Egypt and Syria is what achieves a balance in the Arab world. Syria believes it is on the same battlefield with the Egyptian Armed Forces and with the Egyptian people in the face of terrorists.”

The Syrian diplomat explained that the countries’ vision of cooperation has become clear in the last few years amid the rising international controversy concerning terrorist groups in Syria.

“It became clear which international and regional powers were committed to classifying the terrorist organization the Nusra Front as a moderate opposition force that should not be bombarded. Egypt is with us in this position, as it sees how things are on the ground. Egypt’s vote in favor of the Russian resolution at the UN Security Council made this clear, as did the remarks of Egyptian officials at the Lausanne Conference,” the source added.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid came out in support of a ceasefire in the Syrian conflict, following the meetings in Lausanne.

“The conference witnessed conflicting positions on how to achieve a ceasefire,” Abu Zeid said. “Some actors fear they would lose groups they support on the ground.”

A Lebanese politician familiar with internal dynamics of Syria told Mada Masr that meetings between Egyptian and Syrian security officials are not strange and do occasionally happen.

“But I believe that the official announcement sends a clear and direct message to Saudi Arabia, especially amid foreign policy disagreements between Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” the source said. “This is an important message that needs to be analyzed at a time when the official operation to liberate Mosul has started. This also comes during talks in the Gulf about Egypt’s complacency in Yemen, which has allowed Houthis to receive military and logistical supplies.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abady announced on Monday the commencement of a military operation against Islamic State forces in Mosul, adding that Iraqi military forces have already begun mobilizations with air support provided by the international coalition.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday, stating the Egyptian government’s support for the “people and government of Iraq, as the operation to liberate Mosul from the control of the terrorist Islamic State organization begins.”

“The Islamic State, whoever supports it and its ideology and all other terrorist organizations across the world cannot stand when faced with the will of peace loving nations,” the statement asserted.