CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called the leaders of Gulf Arab states to reassure them of strong Egyptian-Gulf ties after a leaked audio recording that purports to show him and senior aides being derisive of their rich Gulf donors.
Mekameleen, a pro-Islamist TV channel that aired the tape at the weekend, ran subtitles to identify the detailed conversations heard as being between Sisi and two of his senior staff on how to get Gulf states to funnel them more money.
The last conversation suggested it had occurred before Sisi became president in 2014.
Reuters listened to the audiotape but its authenticity could not be confirmed, and it was not able to reach government officials for comment on Monday. The presidency has made no official comment on the alleged recording or its veracity.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have given Egypt over $12 billion in aid, deposits for the central bank and petroleum products since the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.
Last week the Egyptian news website Al-Youm al-Sabea said the three countries would deposit $10 billion in the central bank before Cairo hosts a high-profile investment conference that it hopes will generate ventures worth billions of dollars.
In the alleged recordings, the man identified as Sisi tells another official: “We need 10 billion to be put in the army’s account... and we want 10 like them from the Emirates, and from Kuwait another 10, in addition to a couple of pennies to be put in the central bank and that will complete the 2014 budget.”
The man identified as Abbas Kamel, Sisi’s office manager at the time of the recording, is heard laughing and then saying “and then he will faint,” without identifying who he means.
“Man, they have money like rice,” said the man who was identified as Sisi.
In a separate conversation, a man who was identified as Mahmoud Higazy, who is now the army chief of staff, said: “Their leaders have budgets that are bigger than (our) country’s budget ... and every prince has hundreds of billions.”
Asked by the private Egyptian television channel Al Hayat about the leaks, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb denounced the several pro-Islamist channels that aired the recordings and said: “No one in Egypt believes this talk ... These are lies.”
Egypt has banned Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood and the security services have killed or jailed thousands of Islamists and other foes in a crackdown on public dissent and militant violence.
Critics accuse Sisi of aiming to restore army-backed autocratic rule that fell to a popular uprising in 2011. He denies this and says Egypt faces a tough, prolonged campaign against militancy.
The phone calls that Sisi made to the Saudi and Bahraini kings, the Abu Dhabi crown prince, and the Kuwaiti emir suggest the significance the Egyptian leader places on his relationship with them, as it is crucial to rebuilding an Egyptian economy laid low by years of political turmoil and Islamist militancy.
“The president affirmed .... the special relationship that the UAE has with the Egyptian people,” the state news agency MENA reported, adding that Sisi also emphasized the “the strength of relations between the two countries”.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed al-Nahayan seemed to allude to the recordings, saying, according to the WAM state news agency, “that any malevolent attempt will not affect the strong and growing fraternal relations”.
Saudi King Salman was reported by the state news agency SPA as telling a cabinet session about his phone call with Sisi in which he affirmed that “Saudi’s position towards Egypt and its stability and security is firm and will not change, and their special and established relationship is bigger than any attempt to muddy it”.
Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Michael Georgy and Mark Heinrich