For Egypt, isolating Qatar has political, security advantages
Cairo- A weakened and isolated Qatar will have far-reaching effects on politics and security in Egypt, as well as the problems Cairo faces beyond its borders, experts said.
“Qatar has been waging an all-out media war against the Egyptian state for several years, all with the aim of undermining this state,” said Tarek Fahmy, a political science professor at Cairo University. “The isolation of Qatar will render it incapable of maintaining this war, even if only in the long run.”
Egypt followed Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in cutting ties with Qatar on June 5 following accusations that Doha has been supporting terrorism, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
Qatar, which backed Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Morsi in Egypt before he was toppled in 2013, began a media war vilifying post-Morsi authorities in Egypt. Pro-Brotherhood media — mainly funded by Qatar — exaggerated the importance of the Islamist movement on Egypt’s political scene and the popular following the Brotherhood had.
For almost two years after Morsi’s overthrow, demonstrations by Brotherhood followers dominated coverage by the Qatari news channel Al Jazeera and its Egyptian channel, Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr. Al Jazeera’s coverage misrepresented conditions in Egypt, which affected negatively Cairo’s ability to attract investment and foreign tourists, economists said.
Cairo accused Doha of funding terrorist operations by groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian authorities said one of those groups assassinated Egyptian Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat in a car bombing in June 2015.
Egypt called for a UN Security Council investigation into a ransom of up to $1 billion allegedly paid by Doha to a “terrorist group active in Iraq” to secure the release of kidnapped members of the Qatari royal family.
“This violation of the Security Council resolutions, if proved correct, shall definitely have a negative bearing on counterterrorism efforts on the ground,” senior Egyptian UN diplomat Ihab Moustafa Awad told the Security Council. Security Council Resolution 2199 explicitly bans the payment of ransom to terrorist groups “regardless of how or by whom the ransom is paid.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke with US President Donald Trump on June 9 to discuss the Qatar crisis. Both leaders emphasised the importance of all countries implementing agreements to fight terrorism and combat terrorism financing, a White House statement said.
Egypt’s decision to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar was widely praised by the Egyptian media.
“You cannot imagine the effect of negative media on a country’s image and its ability to attract investments or convince foreign tourists that it is safe enough for them to visit it,” said Egyptian economist Wael al-Nahas.
“Investors do not put their money in a country that the media keeps portraying as unstable. Tourists cannot visit this country, either.”
Since Morsi’s overthrow, Egypt attracted little new foreign investment, negatively affecting the economy and creating a shortage of foreign currency reserves that led to last year’s currency flotation.
Egypt attracted $6 billion in foreign investment in 2016 but most of that capital was from companies already present in Egypt working on new projects and expansions. Cairo said it expects to attract $10 billion in investment this year, compared to $11.4 billion in 2009.
For Egypt, the measures taken against Doha will limit Qatar’s ability to fund Islamist militias jockeying for control in Libya, where Egypt is backing the anti-Islamist forces of Libyan strongman Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
Cairo, which designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group in 2013, ordered air strikes targeting terrorist training camps in Libya. The move, which represented a major expansion in Egypt’s war on terror, was in response to an Islamic State (ISIS) attack in which 30 Coptic Christian pilgrims were killed May 26 in the central Minya region.
Egyptian authorities have said that weapons and ammunition that end up in the hands of ISIS fighting the army in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula are smuggled in from Libya.
The government of eastern Libya, which is aligned with Haftar, also cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. Libyan National Army spokesman Colonel Ahmed al-Mesmari accused Qatar of sending arms and ammunition to Islamist militias in the country.
“This means that tightening the noose around Qatar and forcing it to suspend funding and support to terrorists will leave the Libya militias high and dry,” said Hesham Halabi, a retired Egyptian general and adviser at Nasser Military Academy.
“Apart from significantly contributing to Libya’s stabilisation and the ability of the national army to bring order back to the country, this will contribute to preventing arms smuggling into Egypt and consequently weakening the ISIS terrorists spilling Egyptians’ blood.”