RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The secretary-general of the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation has resigned just days after making a joke about the purportedly frugal ways of Egypt’s president, the group said.
The joke became the latest point of contention in Cairo’s tense relations with Riyadh. But the resignation of the OIC chief, Saudi national Iyad bin Amin Madani, and Cairo’s declared support for the Saudi nominee to replace him, may spare the two Sunni Arab powerhouses a further worsening in their relations.
The OIC said late Monday that Madani has resigned “for health reasons.”
The Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat said in its Tuesday edition that Riyadh has nominated former Social Affairs Minister Youssef Ben Ahmed al-Othimein to replace Madani.
In a statement, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said it supported al-Othimein’s nomination.
“The Arab Republic of Egypt supports the new Saudi nominee for the position in appreciation of the important role assumed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in support of the goals and activities of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,” said the statement.
Madani, during an OIC meeting last week, confused the Tunisian president’s name — Beji Caid Essebsi — with that of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Addressing Essebsi, he then said: “I am sure your fridge has more than water.”
It was a reference to a comment recently made by el-Sissi claiming that for a decade his fridge contained nothing but water — a message to Egyptians to endure the harsh economic conditions their country is experiencing.
Madani’s joke angered the Egyptians, with Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri declaring that it had cast doubt on Madani’s ability to run the OIC — the world’s largest body of Islamic nations with 57 members. Shukri also said Egypt would “revise” its approach to the OIC and its chief.
Egyptian media, meanwhile, claimed Madani was a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group from which Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi hails. El-Sissi led the military’s 2013 overthrow of Morsi, whose year in office proved to be divisive. Authorities have since jailed Morsi, as well as thousands of his supporters, and branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
Since 2013, Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars to keep Egypt’s ailing economy afloat but relations between them have soured as of late, mainly over differences concerning the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, as well as economic issues.
Last month, the Saudis abruptly halted previously agreed fuel shipments, for which Egypt was given soft repayment terms. There have been no updates on whether they will resume.