Qatar’s new expression of hostility draws angry reactions in Egypt

The view in Cairo is that Baker’s statements were no slip of the tongue but part of an overall Qatari campaign against Egypt and other countries boycotting Doha.
Sunday 19/05/2019
A 2017 file picture shows Akbar al-Baker, secretary-general of the Qatar National Tourism Council and the CEO of Qatar Airways, speaking at a news conference. (AP)
In hot water. A 2017 file picture shows Akbar al-Baker, secretary-general of the Qatar National Tourism Council and the CEO of Qatar Airways, speaking at a news conference. (AP)

CAIRO - Comments by a Qatari official set off a wave of resentment in Egypt amid tense relations between the two Arab countries.

Referring to Egyptians, Akbar al-Baker, the secretary-general of the Qatar National Tourism Council and the CEO of Qatar Airways, said Qatar would not grant entry visas to “enemies.”

“We grant visas to our friends, not to our enemies. If you are an enemy, we will treat you as an enemy,” Baker said at a news briefing on the Qatar Summer Festival, which is to begin June 14.

Despite clarifications by Doha and denials by Baker that his statements reflected the official stance of the Qatari government towards Egyptians, Egypt resented the statements, considering them reflective of how Qatar views other Arabs, in general, and Egyptians, in particular.

“Qatar harbours nothing but hatred, not only to Egyptians but also to all Arabs,” said Egyptian lawmaker Mustafa Bakry.

The view in Cairo is that Baker’s statements were no slip of the tongue but part of an overall Qatari campaign against Egypt and other countries boycotting Doha.

Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain — the so-called Arab Quartet — cut off diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017 to protest Doha’s alleged interference in their affairs and its support of Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Arab Quartet submitted a list of demands for Qatar to meet. They included downgrading diplomatic relations with Iran, closing a Turkish military base in Qatar and shutting the Qatari news channel Al Jazeera. The countries asked Doha to hand over wanted figures, including some who had been sentenced to prison in absentia.

Qatar did nothing to meet the demands and accused the Arab Quartet of besieging it.

Doha has submitted complaints against the United Arab Emirates, including with the UN Human Rights Council. Qatari media stepped up criticism of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, in what is viewed as war against the quartet.

This campaign coincides with an escalation of Iranian hostilities against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Baker’s statements came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been campaigning against the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. On May 11, Erdogan lashed out at European leaders for accepting invitations from Sisi to attend last February’s EU-Arab League summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Erdogan described the Saudi-led campaign against the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen as a “dirty” war.

“Qatar is party to a war that aims at undermining the security and stability of Arab states,” Bakry said. “It works in tandem with Iran and Turkey to destabilise these states.”

Egypt’s relations with Qatar deteriorated after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated regime in 2013. Doha, which, like Istanbul, sponsors the Brotherhood, criticised the development and offered refuge to Brotherhood fugitives wanted by Egyptian authorities.

Qatar and Turkey are also accused of working together to undermine Egypt’s security by offering support to Islamist militias active in Libya.

Despite the tensions, an estimated 300,000 Egyptians remain in Qatar, where they run schools, hospitals, courts, transport facilities and commercial outlets. Soon after making his statements, Baker reportedly revealed that Qatar Airways “has more than 750 Egyptians,” including some in senior administrative positions.

Egypt exempted Gulf citizens from entry visa requirements since 1960 but, in November 2017, the Egyptian Interior Ministry removed the exemption for Qataris. Qataris married to Egyptians and Qatari students studying in Egypt still qualify for the entry visa requirement

Egyptian analysts said Qatar’s escalation of hostility towards Egypt and other Arab Quartet members reflect Doha’s deepening isolation. This is especially true with its allies Turkey and Iran, suffering isolation themselves, in the region and from the international community, analysts said

“Qatar suffers a real crisis after it had lost all its friends in the region,” said former Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Orabi. “It wants to create tension between the member states of the anti-terrorism quartet but these states are united in their rejection of Qatari policies.”

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