Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Inching toward rapprochement?

Steps towards Egyptian-Qatari rapprochement are being cautiously welcomed in Cairo, writes Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Egypt seeks solidarity, détente and affability with the Arab states in the hope of achieving mutual interests. Arab-Arab relations are also very special and are based on mutual appreciation and the boosting of the idea of integration,” Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said in a meeting with the press this week.

As long as there were policies that went hand-in-hand with these principles, he added, rapprochement and cooperation could be achieved. The remarks came against the background of hopes for rapprochement and the boosting of relations between Egypt and Qatar in particular.

The media last week quoted security sources as stating that the intelligence officials of both countries had met in Cairo to arrange for a possible summit meeting between president Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani this month.

The meeting was likely to be held in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and be attended by Saudi king Abdullah, they added.

Some days earlier Al-Sisi met Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdel-Rahman Al-Thani, a top Qatari envoy in Cairo, as part of the Saudi-brokered reconciliation that was hailed by Riyadh as the opening of “a new page” between the two Arab states.

The meeting was attended by Khalid Al-Tuwaijri, head of the Saudi court and private secretary to king Abdullah.

The meeting between Al-Sisi and the Qatari envoy was the first since the Egyptian leader took office last year. According to a statement from Al-Sisi’s office Egypt “looked forward to a new era that ends past disagreements”.

During the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit meeting held in Doha last month, Sheikh Tamim announced that “the security of Egypt is the security of Qatar,” a statement that was interpreted as being a way of recognising Egypt’s special status in the Arab world.

Earlier last month, Qatar announced the suspension of its controversial satellite channel Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, which had been critical of the Egyptian authorities since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

The move was preceded by a toning down of the language used in the coverage and then a reduction in the numbers of hours of transmission. Then the channel was taken off the air altogether.

There has also been a toning down of media attacks on Qatar in Egypt. One diplomat who preferred not to give his name said that the “closing of Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr is a positive step, given that it has been followed by a series of official meetings.”

However, he said that the main differences between the two countries were still present and there was no sign that Doha was willing to take steps to resolve them. “Will Qatar cut its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood,” he asked.

During Al-Sisi’s meeting with the Saudi and Qatari envoys, the latter promised to ask the country’s “Islamist guests” from engaging in political activities. However, the issue of providing a safe haven for Muslim Brotherhood leaders and supporting the group more generally was not discussed.

Qatar has showed gestures of good will, however, among them promising a high-profile participation in the economic conference to be held in Egypt in March to attract investment.

Doha has also showed its readiness to stop supporting groups in Libya and to help Cairo contain the situation, which presents a threat to Egyptian security.

The issue of a possible Egyptian-Qatari rapprochement came to the fore in November last year when king Abdullah called on Egypt to follow Riyadh in ending its dispute with Qatar.

King Abdullah’s call came after an agreement was reached to put an end to the worst diplomatic rift to have hit the six members of the GCC for some years. The agreement was supposed to pave the way for a return of the Bahraini and UAE diplomatic missions to Doha.

The Saudi king’s remarks also came one day after the Saudi ambassador returned to Doha and resumed his duties, some eight months after he was withdrawn from the country. Saudi Arabia together with Bahrain and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in March last year, after they accused Qatar of interfering in their internal affairs and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt responded by issuing a statement welcoming the rapprochement with Qatar and the decision of the GCC to try to resolve disagreements among its member states.

“Egypt will not relent in its support for its brothers. It will fully respond to this genuine call, which represents a huge leap forwards on our journey of joint Arab action,” the statement said.

The row with Qatar started during the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak when Doha was trying to extend its diplomatic influence in the Middle East, including in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The differences increased when Doha started a policy of close cooperation with Islamist movements like Hamas in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Shia group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Relations noticeably improved under Morsi’s rule, during which Doha provided the Muslim Brotherhood with economic and financial support. They soured again last year after the ouster of Morsi following the 30 June Revolution. Doha rejected the ouster, saying that it considered the June Revolution to be a “military coup” and attacked Egypt through its television channel Al-Jazeera.

Doha then opened its doors to receive wanted Brotherhood leaders, also providing them with a media platform. It also withdrew the economic support it had provided to Egypt during the one-year rule of the Brotherhood.

All of this resulted in a major deterioration in Egyptian-Qatari relations, leading to the withdrawal of the Egyptian ambassador from Qatar in February. Three Al-Jazeera English reporters have been sentenced to between seven and 10 years in prison in Egypt on charges of fabricating news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

The channel has denied these charges, and today there is speculation that the issue could be resolved with the release of the Al-Jazeera reporters.

“We aim to create a political, economic and social system that gains the support of the Arab states. We expect that Qatari policies will conform to that approach in order to support Egypt and realise joint objectives and Arab national security,” Shoukri said at this week’s meeting.

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