New row between Egypt, Qatar triggered by Al Jazeera
Cairo - Relations between Egypt and Qatar could deteriorate following the broadcast by news channel Al Jazeera of a documentary lambasting the Egyptian Army, experts said.
“Such a documentary will have far-reaching effects on already tense relations between the two countries,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. “Qatar has been presenting proof after another that it does not want normal relations with Egypt.”
Called Soldiers, the documentary, which aired in November, presents former army conscripts and a non-commissioned officer talking about what they describe as tough conditions and the lack of training in the Egyptian Army.
The film contains footage of soldiers purportedly being punished for making mistakes.
The documentary, aired by Doha-funded Al Jazeera, adds to the degrading relations between Cairo and Doha, which took a turn for the worse in 2013 when the Egyptian Army ousted Islamist president Muhammad Morsi, who received Qatari backing.
Qatar criticised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who led the military’s move against Morsi, and expressed unwavering support for the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s movement.
Cairo has repeatedly accused Doha of interfering in its affairs and of offering financial backing to Brotherhood members, who until recently were, Egyptian authorities claim, behind unrest in Egypt.
Cairo has accused Al Jazeera of being a mouthpiece of the Qatari government instead of acting as an independent media outlet. This was probably why most of the anger in Cairo after the film was broadcast was levelled at Qatar and its ruling family.
“Qatar has crossed all red lines by making such a film,” said Mustafa Bakri, an Egyptian lawmaker, who, with others, has been leading a motion in parliament for a tougher stance against Qatar.
“Egypt should not stand silent while this small state keeps wronging it,” he said.
The Egypt government had previously generally kept silent against what it described as Qatari “interference” in its affairs. Political observers in Egypt said Saudi Arabia, which has given Egypt billions of dollars in economic aid after Morsi’s ouster, had been behind Cairo’s self-restraint.
Cairo was keen not to anger its main financier by getting back at Doha, while the latter’s media ranted about alleged atrocities Egypt’s regime committed against Muslim Brotherhood members.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has not commented on the Al Jazeera documentary. However, with relations between Riyadh and Cairo deteriorating on several issues, including the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, Egypt is not as hampered as it used to be to settle scores with Qatar, experts said.
The options in this regard are limited and Egypt has to walk a fine line between paying Qatar back and harming itself, Fahmi said.
About 150,000 Egyptians work in Qatar.
“So, when reacting to Qatari actions, Egypt must make sure that this reaction will not end up causing it an internal problem if Qatar decides to kick all these workers out and deport them to Egypt,” Fahmi said.
With government data indicating that 12.7% of Egypt’s workforce of 26 million is jobless, the last thing Cairo wants to see are tens of thousands of its workers returning from Qatar to demand jobs at home.
The Arab League blamed media in both countries for intensifying their differences and causing the current crisis.
“The media always blow things out of logical proportions,” said Ahmed Bin Helli, Arab League deputy secretary-general.
He said if it mediates between the two countries, the league would not disclose the matter to the media before achieving results.
One reason the Al Jazeera documentary caused such fury in Cairo is that it hits directly at the heart of Egypt — its army. Egypt’s obligatory military service means that a member of almost every Egyptian family is either a current or former army conscript or officer.
“Some action must be taken against Qatar this time,” Bakri said. “At least, the Foreign Ministry must recall our ambassador from Doha.”