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Future of the Qatari-Egyptian Rapprochement

The Observation and Analysis Unit
23 Mar 2015
Introduction

The relationships between Egypt and Qatar since the military coup have been strained, and the diplomatic and cooperation between the two countries have reached unprecedented low, despite the presence of some formal protocols.

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Abstract:

The relationships between Egypt and Qatar since the military coup have been strained, and the diplomatic and cooperation between the two countries have reached unprecedented low, despite the presence of some formal protocols.

The leadership of Qatar believes that possessing a positive outlook and avoiding disputes is a key to increase its influence in the region, and the Qatari diplomacy has been able indeed to handle the situation, and has positively responded to the pressures by the GCC countries to deal with the regime in Egypt to avoid being isolated.

Al-Sisi regime in Egypt is looking for sources of power that could enable him to become a part of international coalitions to strengthen his grip over the country, and the war on terror was a readily available option. Nevertheless, the response of the UN Security Council was surprising to the regime, since it was stated that the situation in Libya requires increasing political efforts to a reach a solution without an international military intervention.

 

This paper considers two possible scenarios:

  • Saudi Arabia could renew its pressure to partially normalize the ties and revert to a minimum diplomatic cooperation. “strong
  • The strained relations would continue in a context of a media war between the two countries. “weak

 

 

 

Introduction:

After King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz passed away, the Qatar-Egypt rapprochement lost its glow, and the door was opened to new speculations regarding the future of the relationship between the two states, which is arguably a significant indicator for the overall geopolitical developments in the whole region.

Saudi Arabia has played the role of the mediator by practicing its pressure on both sides in an endeavor to reconcile between them. This might in part explain the Qatari threats to cancel the GCC summit that was to be held in Doha, in addition to a negative media discourse against Qatar. The Emir of Qatar hinted at this situation in his inaugural speech in the 35th GCC summit. He said that “the recent experiences "have taught us not to rush to convert disagreement in political viewpoints and assessing a political situation, which may arise even among the leaders, into differences that would affect sectors such as economy, society, media and others.

Qatar has succeeded in mending its relations with its neighbors in the Gulf, and the ambassadors resumed their duties after they were pulled in 5/3/2014 over Qatar’s backing of those opposing the regime in Egypt. This means that Qatar has won this round ,especially that it doesn’t face any challenges such as those faced by the Egyptian regime politically, economically, and in terms of security.

Recently, a Security Council resolution was consistent with the stances of Qatar, Tunisia, and Algeria which opposes any Egyptian military intervention in Libya under the pretext of “fighting terror”. This prompted accusations for Qatar on supporting terrorism by the Egyptian representative to the Arab League. Qatar responded by calling its ambassador from Cairo for consultation, and a statement by the GCC rejected these accusations which were claimed before by “Israel” against the Qatari strategies in the region.

The regime in Egypt depended on the possible regional and international intervention in the region against ISIL to expand and include Libya in the operations, but was disappointed when it realized that this was not a possible scenario.

 

 

In this context, it is important to analyze the current dramatic changes in the region:

First: Objective Motives for Reconciliation       

Every part in this context endeavors to achieve political advantages, be it Qatar, Egypt, or even Saudi Arabia which is mediating between the two countries. Here are some of the reasons that call for realizing this reconciliation:

  1. Motives and objectives in the Gulf:

After a period on tense relationships among the Gulf states and the disputes caused by the different positions regarding the revolts of the Arab Spring, Iran has seized the opportunity and was quick to exploit the situation in the region. This provoked the Gulf States which realized the dangers threatening their national security. Therefore it was deemed important to solve these disputes in order to control the course of events in the region. This is what has effectively taken place, which could also explain the visit of Al-Zayani, the Secretary General of the GCC, on Feb 25, 2015 accompanied by the ambassadors of the six GCC countries to Eden. They met there with President Mansour Hadi to discuss possible actions against the Houthis.

  1. Motives for Egypt

The regime in Egypt is already troubled by huge debts in addition to political and security unrests, and is not capable of creating more animosities, especially with influential countries such Qatar, which has the media giant Al-Jazeera which influences the Egyptian public opinion. It could be said that Egypt has immediately responded to the reconciliation efforts in order to achieve media, political, and economic gains.

As far as the media is concerned, Egypt is trying to silence Al-Jazeera channel and influence its outlook regarding the protests and violations taking place in Egypt. Politically, it aims at weakening the coalition which supports the legitimacy of the ousted president, Morsi, and opposes the coup, by trying to neutralize the role of Qatar in this issue. Economically, the regime in Egypt is eager to retrieve the $3 billion Qatari deposit to Egypt which was previously withdrawn by Qatar.

It seems that the media outlets in Egypt, since the overthrow of Morsi, have been trying, in vain, to portray an image of a new, powerful, and stable military regime in the country, which could be counted on to face the challenges facing the country including the persistent economic crisis. This almost fictional image has a significant cost that should be shouldered by the regime in order to fulfil its promises. The regime tried to take actions and measures that exceeds its capabilities, such as launching airstrikes in Libya, pushing for a military intervention there, in addition to competing with other powerful and politically stable countries such as Turkey and Qatar, which are considered the arch enemies by the current Egyptian leadership.

  1. Motives for Qatar

Qatar has been playing major and sensitive roles regionally and internationally. Its activities have been closely monitored by other regional players, such as Israel, which is leading an international smear campaign against Qatar and accuses it of supporting terrorism. Begin-Sadat center for strategic studies, an influential think-tank in Israel, has published such claims, and some Israeli leaders have continuously threatened to isolate Qatar internationally.

There are several reasons that urge Qatar to welcome the call by late King Abdullah for reconciliation between Qatar and Egypt which could be summarized in the following points:

  • Avoiding isolation in the Gulf region
  • Protecting the integrity of the GCC, which is the most powerful entity for the region against external threats and protecting the mutual interests of its state members
  • Qatar seeks to regain its leading position as a mediator to ease the tensions and reach solutions, and to prove that it is still capable of playing this role in the region.

 

Second: Challenges Facing Reconciliation

The two states welcomed the initiative launched by late King Abdullah, and some quick measures took place, particularly in the media war against the two countries, in addition to some concessions by both parties as a gesture of good intentions. The regime in Egypt removed the intelligence chief Mohammad Farid El-Tohamy and sent him to retirement, who was a hardliner in the crackdown against Islamists and known for his fierce enmity against Hamas, and the latter welcomed the initiative and considered it an advantage to the Palestinian cause, and the Israeli newspapers were concerned about this move.

Qatar closed Al-Jazeera Masr, temporarily according to a statement issued by the management of the station, and Al-Jazeera English adopted some minor changes in its news policy. Following the death of King Abdullah, Al-Jazeera returned to its previous editorial line in covering the protests in Egypt and uncovering the violations of the military regime, while the media channels in Egypt, which lack professionalism and do not abide by a code of conduct in general, responded by launching smear campaigns against Qatar.

Therefore, the rapprochement efforts face thorny issues, which make it difficult to predict the future of the process. The security cooperation between Egypt and Israel is considered one of the main obstacles to achieve the reconciliation, which raises the question of whether Egypt is willing to forgo this relationship with Israel?

On the other hand, Qatar has strong ties with Turkey, the county which until now has not recognized the new regime in Egypt, which is considered illegitimate by Ankara. Turkey hosts several figures supporting the Morsi rule, in addition to a number of stations affiliated with the alliance of supporting the legitimacy in Egypt.

Additionally, the new leadership in SA is concerned with more pressing issues, which might postpone the efforts to revive the reconciliation between Qatar and Egypt.

There are conflicting interests of the two parties which impede the efforts of reconciliation, although the current risks and instability in the whole region might prompt them to cooperate and take serious steps towards agreement.

 

 

Third: Future Scenarios

A scenario of limited reconciliation: the recent developments in the region leave no room for choices among the concerned parties, and therefore the SA is expected to push towards realizing a form of accord between Egypt and Qatar and engage them in political negotiations that could lead to normalizing the relationships to a minimal level. At that point, SA and Qatar will be able to call for dialogue among the political opponents in Egypt and to lead the efforts for internal reconciliation and freeing political prisoners. This also might bring changes to the relationship with Hamas, and might even include normalizing the relationships between Turkey and Egypt.

The scenario of freezing the reconciliation efforts: where the SA might keep a balanced relationship with the regime in Egypt, and decrease its pressures over Qatar regarding its relationship with Egypt, and the fraternal relationship between SA and Qatar will improve. This means that the two countries would be able to form new regional alliances where Qatar might seek to bring SA and Turkey closer together, while excluding the UAE and Egypt from this coalition, which might lead to pressures on these two countries, unless Mutaib bin Abdullah and Khaled Al-Twaijiri preserved their influence in the Kingdom. On the other hand, Egypt and the UAE in this scenario might response by forging relationships with Iran to enrage Turkey and other Gulf countries.

If the Arab states realize the enormous dangers and troubles in region, whether in the threat of destructive civil wars or the blatant foreign intervention in the region, then the first scenario is more likely to take place. This requires that the political opponents in Egypt agree to engage in negotiations with international guarantees. Otherwise, the second scenario is likely to happen. It also seems that SA and Turkey are set to share closer perspectives on certain issues, especially providing arms to the “moderate” Syrian opposition.

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