No major results following Qatari emir’s regional tour

Libya was on the agenda in Tunisia and Algeria. There were necessarily no common views as proclaimed.
Sunday 01/03/2020
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani as he arrives in the Tunisian capital on February 24, 2020. (AFP)
Pledges. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani as he arrives in the Tunisian capital on February 24, 2020. (AFP)

TUNIS - Few tangible results were announced during Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s recent visit to three Arab countries.

The emir met with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in Algiers and, as in stops in Jordan and Tunisia, Sheikh Tamim offered expressions of diplomatic courtesy but not much else.

“Algeria has a distinguished history in the issue of resolving conflicts in the region and in the Arab world. We need Algeria today, especially when the Arab world experiences, unfortunately, several crises,” Sheikh Tamim was quoted as saying by the Algerian state news agency APS.

The remarks were seen as encouragement for Algeria’s possible mediation in Qatar’s long-running dispute with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt — the Arab Quartet — especially with Tebboune soon to visit Riyadh.

“It is likely that Qatar would seek the support of Algeria to use the upcoming Arab summit as an opportunity for Qatari reconciliation with Saudi Arabia and Egypt,” said Algerian political writer Ryad Hamadi.

Algeria is to host an Arab summit this year and take over the rotating presidency of the Arab League.

Qatar has been boycotted by the Arab Quartet since June 2017 when the four countries severed diplomatic and trade links with Doha, accusing it of backing Islamic extremists and keeping close ties with Tehran.

Regional experts said they doubted whether Algeria would venture into any such mediation, given the lack of progress in other efforts at reconciliation between Qatar and the Arab Quartet.

In Algeria, Sheikh Tamim was said to have raised the issue of the situation in Libya, although his comment that there is “absolute harmony in the views between” Libyan Government of National Accord Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Libyan National Army Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar was seen as far from an accurate assessment of the situation.

A statement issued after the Sheikh Tamim-Tebboune talks February 25 said the leaders “agreed fully” Libya must be freed of foreign mercenaries and weapons and be shielded against foreign intervention.

That seemed to contradict Qatari policy in Libya where it sides with Turkey in backing Islamist militants fighting for Sarraj’s UN-backed government in Tripoli.

Whether in Tunisia or Algeria, there were necessarily no common views on Libya, as joint statements proclaimed.

Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum visited eastern Libya to meet with Haftar and other leaders in what was perceived as a rebalancing of Algerian policy, given Algiers had previously leaned more towards the Government of National Accord.

Algeria is said to be seeking to play a major role in resolving the Libyan conflict and it strives to build balanced relations with both sides of the conflict.

Sheikh Tamim also pledged economic support to Algeria. “We have the willingness to work to upgrade our bilateral relations in all fields namely in economic cooperation and investment,” he said.

Qatar is the main shareholder of Algeria’s steel Bellara complex with an investment of $2 billion. The complex went on stream last year, making Algeria an exporter of a range of steel products.

Qatar-owned Ooredoo telecoms company faced a major crisis in Algeria a week before the emir’s visit when Tebboune ordered the deportation of the general manager of the Algerian branch of the company after rumours that Ooredoo planned to lay off 900 workers in Algeria.

Sheikh Tamim’s talks with Tunisian President Kais Saied on February 24 were long on florid language about the “historical ties” between the two countries but were short on concrete steps.

Saied said Qatar pledged to invest in a medical complex in the central town of Kairouan and in a market of farming products in Sidi Bouzid. Saudis are also investing in the medical centre.

There were unconfirmed reports Sheikh Tamim tried to bridge the gap between Saied and Tunisian parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi. However, in his news conference with the emir, Saied expressed his opposition to Tunisian politicians’ attempts to involve foreign parties in Tunisia’s internal matters.

The Libyan conflict is also a sensitive matter in Tunisia. Although Tunis is said to have rejected Ankara’s request for support to deploy troops and proxies in Libya, Sheikh Tamim’s trip, shortly after a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, gave the impression that Tunisia’s diplomacy was aligned with the Turkish-Qatari axis on Libya.

Political writer Ikhlas Latif said it was a “source of concern” that, since he became president, Saied has received only the leaders who are part of the Qatari axis.

“While he said he is working for a rapprochement between rival factions of the Libyan conflict, Saied had met only Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, who invited the Turks to intervene in his country to ward off Khalifa Haftar’s forces,” she said.

In Jordan, Sheikh Tamim met with King Abdullah II on February 23 regarding bilateral and regional issues, including economic and investment-related fields, a Jordanian Royal Court statement said. They also discussed regional developments, mainly the Palestinian issue.

Political circles in Jordan indicated that Amman is hoping for Qatar’s support in its economic crisis, especially since support from other donors in the region has dwindled.

Tunisia and Jordan face serious economic crises, with increased foreign debt, a large deficit in the state budget and significant unemployment problems.

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