Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1353, (20 - 26 July 2017)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1353, (20 - 26 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Maximum gains

Dina Ezzat on Cairo’s strategy towards the Qatari crisis

Al-Sisi and  Al-Sabah in the presidential palace in Cairo on Monday  (photo: Reuters)
Al-Sisi and Al-Sabah in the presidential palace in Cairo on Monday (photo: Reuters)

Cairo is determined to secure as many commitments as possible from Doha on the bilateral and regional fronts, say informed Egyptian officials. 

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity, sources say Egypt’s approach towards the ongoing crisis is conditioned by three key factors: the level of backing offered by key Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE; the extension of Qatar’s “negative influence” beyond inter-Gulf squabbles over political alliances and an absolute determination that any resolution must be accompanied by Doha’s ending its support of Islamist political groups and aborting its role in Libya and Syria.

This was the message President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi conveyed in his talks in Cairo with the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah who has been mediating in the crisis, and gaining support for the process of mediation from leading capitals, including Washington and Paris.

“President Al-Sisi shared with the foreign minister of Kuwait many concerns about the role Qatar has played since 30 June [2013] in inciting civil unrest in Egypt,” said one of the sources.

Doha, which opposed the removal of Mohamed Morsi in the summer of 2013, has openly supported the Muslim Brotherhood with “political, financial and propaganda help”, say Egyptian diplomats. 

Following Al-Sisi’s election as president in 2014 Egypt began to openly criticise Qatar for hosting Muslim Brotherhood members and using its news satellite channel Al-Jazeera to promote Muslim Brotherhood propaganda and criticise the political changes in Egypt.

The role of Al-Jazeera is a major issue for Cairo in managing the Qatar crisis, something that was stressed in the 5 July meeting between the foreign ministers of the four Arab capitals boycotting Qatar and repeated during last week’s regular meeting of Arab ministers of information at the Arab League. Following the meeting Al-Sisi hosted the heads of participating delegations — Qatar excluded — at the presidential palace.

But Al-Jazeera is not the only target Egypt has in its sights. It also wants an end to what officials in Cairo say is Doha’s financing of “the Islamist opposition with a view to destabilising” the regime in Egypt.

Throughout the crisis Cairo has provided concerned capitals with intercepted evidence of “funding and communication” between Qatar and the Islamist opposition in several states, including Sudan, Libya and Turkey.

This week Cairo made it clear that it will not settle for promises from Doha to suspend such aid only to have it then channelled via Turkey, a close ally of Doha and implacable foe of Egypt.

Whatever happens, say Egyptian sources, Cairo wants solid guarantees that Qatar will “stop meddling, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of Egypt”.

Egypt also wants mediators to halt the “flow of arms and militants” that Qatar has been sending to Libya and Syria to oppose what Cairo perceives as the two countries’ legitimate ruling factions — Khalifa Haftar in Libya and Bashar Al-Assad in Syria. 

Cairo and Abu Dhabi both agree Haftar and Al-Assad are necessary players who can bring a degree of stability to their countries and avoid territorial collapse.

“We see eye-to-eye with the UAE on this,” said one source.

Sources also agree close cooperation with the UAE and Saudi Arabia is a major gain secured by Cairo by its management of the Qatar crisis.

Abu Dhabi and Riyadh both provided political and financial backing for the political transformation Egypt underwent in the summer of 2013. The alliance, however, came under increasing strain in the last year as economic and political differences surfaced.

In 2016 Saudi Arabia and the UAE sided with Qatar when Cairo accused Doha of inciting political instability. Yet today the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain stand side by side with Egypt in opposing Qatar. 

While sources say Cairo remains concerned that Doha may move to accommodate Gulf demands related to Doha’s support of opposition groups in the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia without moving to meet Egypt’s own demands there are no signs of this happening at the moment. 

Cairo’s immediate goal, they say, is now to ensure the united front holds during the meeting of the four foreign ministers scheduled to take place in Manama and that collective pressure on Doha to alter the editorial policy of Al-Jazeera and halt the arming of militias in Syria and Libya is maintained.

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