US change of posture encourages Qatari shift on relations with Egypt

Qatari minister of foreign affairs and head of intelligence convey invitation from emir to Sisi to visit Doha.

Wednesday 26/05/2021
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) meets with Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani in Cairo, on May 25, 2021. (AFP)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) meets with Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani in Cairo, on May 25, 2021. (AFP)

CAIRO – Qatar has moved quickly to repair its troubled relationship with Egypt after it sensed a shift in the US administration’s stance towards Cairo during and after the Gaza crisis.

The Egyptian presidency said in a statement that the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, extended on Tuesday an invitation to Egyptian President Abdelfattah el-Sisi to visit Doha.

Sisi received Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who delivered a message to him from Sheikh Tamim.

The head of the Qatari State Security (Intelligence Service) Abdullah Al-Khulaifi, accompanied the Qatari foreign minister who is on a regional tour, during his meeting with Sisi, although Khulaifi was not present during other legs of the foreign minister’s trip that included Tripoli and Khartoum. This, according to analysts, reflected Qatar’s serious intent to open a new chapter with Cairo.

While the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry attended the meeting, the presence of the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Abbas Kamel and the announcement that the visit by Khulaifi would last two days beyond the Qatari foreign minister’s visit, indicated that serious security talks are scheduled between the two parties. It also suggested  that Khulaifi is  now tasked with addressing Egypt’s lingering reservations about Doha’s relationship with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the international organisation of the Brotherhood.

Doha’s backing for the Brotherhood, its hosting of a number of leaders of the Islamist organisation and its blatant interference in the internal affairs of Egypt were among the sources of frustration that still bothered Cairo about Qatar’s attitude.

After the second call by US President Joe Biden to President Sisi within a few days, the Qatari position changed, as Doha sensed that a major change was in the making in Washington’s approach towards the Egyptian regime and that it was necessary to make its own adjustment.

The Egyptian presidency said that the message Sisi received from Sheikh Tamim stressed the Qatari ruler’s “aspiration to enhancing discussions between the two countries on ways to develop bilateral relations, as well as discussion of regional and international developments and coordination  of related positions in a way that serves the aspirations of the two countries.”

Sisi’s visit to Doha, if it takes place, would be his first to Qatar since his election as president in 2014. It would confirm that the two countries have overcome their past difficulties.

After the Al-Ula summit in the Gulf, Doha did not rush to cosy up to Cairo for a number of reasons, including Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its backing for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But the Gaza war, Washington’s attention to the crisis, the confirmation of Egypt’s role as one of the pillars of security in the eastern Mediterranean, US praise for Cairo’s role in Libya and the indications of rapprochement between Cairo and Ankara, all eventually convinced Doha to sidestep its traditional reservations and embark on reconciliation with Egypt.

On January 5, the “Al-Ula” statement was issued by the Gulf summit announcing the end of sharp crisis that broke out in mid-2017 between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt and which lead to the closing of airspace and severing of diplomatic relations between Doha and the Arab quartet.

On February 23, two official delegations from Qatar and Egypt held talks in Kuwait on joint mechanisms and procedures for putting into practice the “Gulf Reconciliation Statement”, amid Egyptian-Qatari praise for the improved relations since the completion of the reconciliation.

Egyptian sources revealed to The Arab Weekly that since then, there have been intensive official contacts between the two countries to coordinate their response to regional crises.

This helped bridge the political divide between Doha and Cairo as illustrated by Qatar’s position on the Gaza war,  which did not include the customary media criticisms of Cairo.

The same sources added that Qatar was keen to listen to the Egyptian viewpoint on serious cooperation on issues such as the Gaza Strip, Libya and the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Doha reacted favourably to Cairo’s recent moves to reach a ceasefire between the Hamas and Israel and did not try to obstruct them.

Former Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Al-Orabi confirmed that talks were held between the foreign ministers of Egypt and Qatar “dealing with coordination regarding the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and the mechanisms for stabilising the ceasefire on the part of Hamas, which maintains close ties with Doha, especially that Qatar wants to participate in any Egyptian moves in the Gaza Strip ”.

Orabi told The Arab Weekly that Cairo, is willing to deal with the changes in Gaza in cooperation with Doha, pointing out that the Qataris cannot alone influence Hamas’ decisions, as Egypt’s proposals require support by other regional powers. These countries include in particular Iran and Turkey, both of whom have strong ties to Qatar.

Cairo also needs Doha to exert pressure on Hamas and control its behaviour during the next stage so as to be able to build on the Gaza war and the success of the Gaza reconstruction process.

It is expected that the rapprochement between Cairo and Doha will also affect certain regional balances, especially those involving certain parties that have benefited from the continuing tensions between them. It will particularly vindicate Cairo’s opposition to the exploitation of Islamist groups.