Qatar’s new asylum law exacerbates tensions with Egypt
CAIRO - Qatar’s new political asylum law will exacerbate tensions with the Arab Quartet — Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain — especially Egypt, experts said, with many in Cairo saying this proves Doha’s support for terrorism and necessitates the government taking legal action.
“By passing such a law, Doha wants to prove that it still has cards to use against the Quartet,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. “This is why the law and Qatar’s conduct in general will most likely widen the gap between Doha and the member states of the quartet even more in the future.”
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani approved Law No. 11/2018, formally granting political asylum to foreigners living in Qatar for the first time.
The law was enacted with another measure that aims to ease restrictions on tens of thousands of foreign workers in Qatar, projecting an image of a modernising nation that wants to improve labour conditions and abide by international labour rights conventions.
However, political observers in Egypt reacted angrily, saying the asylum law was an attempt to sabotage Egyptian efforts to take to court dozens of members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the movement of ousted Islamist President Muhammad Morsi.
Soon after Morsi’s ouster in 2013, dozens of Brotherhood senior members fled Egypt, mostly for Qatar and Turkey. Many of those figures were indicted by Egyptian courts that charged them with financial and terrorism-related crimes. Some Brotherhood members have been convicted in absentia and sentenced to death.
Most of the same people have been featured on a list of wanted figures published by the Arab Quartet, which has publicly called on Qatar to hand over the wanted figures but Doha has refused.
The new law was enacted after Egyptian Brotherhood members, including a television presenter on the Qatari news channel Al Jazeera, a former member of Morsi’s cabinet and a Muslim Brotherhood activist were arrested in Europe at the request of Interpol Egypt.
“Most of these arrests failed to lead to the handing over of these Brotherhood figures to Cairo because of Doha’s intervention,” said Kamal Amer, head of the Defence and National Security Committee of the Egyptian parliament. “Qatar insists to take all measures to protect Islamists, even if they are indicted in terrorism and criminal cases in their countries.”
Under the new law, the Qatari Interior Ministry will form a committee of concerned agencies to consider political asylum requests by foreign nationals. Applicants must not have been indicted in war crimes, violations of the UN Charter or non-political crimes. Those applying for asylum must also have one nationality and refrain from pursuing any political activities inside Qatar after being granted the asylum.
Those granted asylum would be given a Qatari passport, Qatari media reported. They would also be allowed to be joined by family members and enjoy health-care services.
The law appears to be tailored to fit those who allegedly committed crimes in Arab Quartet countries and are living in Qatar, legal experts said.
“Qatar can easily claim that the cases the escaped Islamists were involved in back home were politically motivated,” said Salah al-Tahawi, a professor of international law at Helwan University. “This makes these Islamists qualify for political asylum.”
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain severed trade and diplomatic ties with Qatar in June 2017 in protest of Doha’s alleged interference in their affairs and its sponsorship of Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
Qatar, the countries said, pursued policies that jeopardised their security and have serious ramifications for security in the Arab region. Apart from the list of wanted figures, the countries demanded a change of Qatari policies, including Qatar’s alliance with regional adversary Iran.
Through the past year, Doha has expressed defiance, even as the boycott caused economic damage and politically isolated it.
The new law takes the showdown between Qatar and the Arab Quartet to another level, legal experts said.
“Political asylum has clear regulations in international law,” Tahawi said. “This is why Egypt can lodge a complaint against Qatar at the United Nations if it grants this asylum to those sentenced by Egyptian courts for involvement in terrorist activities or joining outlawed movements.”