Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1301, (23 - 29 June 2016)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1301, (23 - 29 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

New tensions with Qatar

Comments on court verdicts handed down in Cairo this week have led to further tensions between Cairo and Doha, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

“History and the Egyptian people won’t forget those who insult them,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid warned earlier this week. He was speaking after Qatar described the verdicts handed down in Cairo on Saturday against ousted former president Mohamed Morsi and others as “unfounded” and “containing misleading claims”.

Abu Zeid said it was not surprising to see such comments coming from a government that had “devoted many resources over recent years to mobilising its media mouthpieces to be hostile to the people of Egypt, the state, and institutions.”

He added that the comments would not harm the Egyptian judiciary, which was independent of the government. Instead, they revealed the ignorance of those who had made them and who had shown that they knew nothing of the integrity and professionalism of the Egyptian court system.

However, he said relations between the Qatari and Egyptian people would remain solid. “Egypt will remain a faithful neighbour that cares about the interests of the entire Middle East, does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, and maintains the security and integrity of the Arab nation,” Abu Zeid said.

The reaction came after the Qatari Foreign Ministry commented on the verdicts issued against Morsi and others. In a statement issued on the same day, it said the verdicts lacked a “proper sense of justice” and did not help build ties between the two countries.

“The verdict against Morsi is unfounded, goes against the truth, and contains misleading claims that violate the policy of Qatar towards its sisterly countries, of which Egypt is one,” said Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, head of the information office at the Qatari Foreign Ministry.

He described the charge of espionage involving Qatar mentioned in the verdict as both “surprising and unacceptable,” adding that the verdict was not unexpected in the light of the direction the Egyptian court system has been moving over the last few years, with sentences of life imprisonment and execution handed down to more than 1,000 defendants.

“These verdicts lack a proper sense of justice and were issued not as a result of reasons related to the law but of other reasons that do not help to consolidate ties between the sisterly countries,” Al-Rumaihi said.

He said that Qatar is at the top of the list of countries that have supported the Egyptian people since the 25 January Revolution and that the verdicts set a dangerous precedent for relations between the Arab countries.

Meanwhile, the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera TV channel condemned the verdicts, saying they were part of a “ruthless campaign” against freedom of expression in Egypt and called on the international community to show solidarity with journalists.

Turkey also condemned the life sentence handed down by Egypt to Morsi in an official statement issued on the day of the verdict. “We express our deep concern and condemn the sentence of life imprisonment given to President Morsi who has been in prison since 2013,” said a statement posted on the Turkish Foreign Ministry website.

“We believe this decision will not contribute to Egypt’s peace and stability,” the statement added.

Commenting on the verdicts, Mohamed Al-Orabi, head of the parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee, described Egypt’s statements as clear, adding that the country would respond to any country that interfered in its internal affairs.

The tensions between Egypt and Qatar have been reignited due to Qatar’s issuing of a strongly-worded statement over the death sentences handed down by a Cairo court to six people, including two Al-Jazeera employees, for allegedly passing Egyptian state security documents to Qatar and Al-Jazeera during the rule of former president Morsi.

The case involved a total of 11 defendants, including Morsi, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison, together with two of his aides, for “leading a terrorist group,” a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood group, and another 15 years for leaking official documents.

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 such as Hamas in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Shia group Hizbullah in Lebanon.

However, relations have seen a noticeable strain since the ouster of Morsi, who was supported by Qatar throughout his one year in office. Doha rejected the ouster, saying that it considered the 30 June Revolution to be a “military coup” and attacking Egypt through its television channel Al-Jazeera.

The tension was further fuelled by Qatari support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its hosting top figures from the group. Qatar also withdrew the economic support it had provided to Egypt during the one-year rule of Morsi and the Brotherhood.

Egypt accuses Al-Jazeera of biased coverage of Egyptian news and favouring the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. This resulted in a major deterioration in Egyptian-Qatari relations, leading to the withdrawal of the Egyptian ambassador from Qatar in February 2014.

In addition, 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.

Allegations that Qatar is financially supporting the Brotherhood prompted Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar in March 2014.

Towards the end of that year, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia put forward a peace initiative that was welcomed by both sides. The ambassadors were returned to Doha after relations between Egypt and the Gulf country thawed, with Qatar even removing the programme Mubashir Misr from Al-Jazeera, which had been critical of the Egyptian authorities since the ouster of Morsi, as a gesture of goodwill.

In early 2015, relations cooled again after Qatar and Al-Jazeera condemned an Egyptian air strike on an Islamic State (IS) group base in Libya following the brutal beheading of a group of Egyptian Copts.

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