RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia, which had supported President Hosni Mubarak throughout the mass protests that finally brought him down, said Saturday that it welcomed the peaceful transition of power in Egypt.
The kingdom’s state news agency said the government of the biggest Arab economy and the world’s top oil exporter expressed hope the Egyptian armed forces would ensure stability.
It made no mention of the pro-democracy demonstrators.
“The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia welcomes the peaceful transition of power in the Arab Republic of Egypt, and expresses hope in the efforts of the Egyptian armed forces to restore peace, stability and tranquility,” the SPA agency said.
Mubarak’s 30-year rule over the most populous Arab state was brought to a tumultuous end Friday after weeks of protests across Egypt. His departure followed the flight of Tunisia’s long-time leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to Saudi Arabia.
Both events have fueled speculation that popular discontent with economic hardships and a lack of political freedoms could spread to other Arab states, although the distribution of oil wealth among the wider population remains a key factor for the U.S.-allied Saudi royal family in muting dissent.
King Abdullah had expressed support for Mubarak during the protests against his 30 years of one-man rule.
As recently as Thursday, Saudi Arabia had denounced what it saw as “blatant interference” by foreign countries in Egypt, where the United States had called for a political transition and the lifting of emergency law.
Earlier the same day, British newspaper The Times said King Abdullah had told U.S. President Barack Obama that he would help prop up Mubarak’s government if the United States withdrew aid to Cairo. In a January 29 conversation, Abdullah had urged Obama not to humiliate Mubarak, the paper said.
Saudi Arabia controls more than a fifth of the world’s crude oil reserves. As home to Islam’s holiest sites, as well as the birthplace of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Saudi Arabia is also central to global efforts to fight Islamic militancy.
Reporting by Martina Fuchs; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Alastair Macdonald