New row between Egypt, Qatar triggered by Al Jazeera

Sunday 11/12/2016
A September 2016 file picture shows Egyptian Army soldiers securing a site where a boat carrying migrants capsized off the coast in Al Buhayrah Egypt. (Reuters)

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.”

11