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Qatar blockade ends: Cairo to normalise relations with Doha

The first commercial flights between the erstwhile opponents took place on Monday
A mask-clad traveller walks past a television screen showing Qatar's Al Jazeera news channel as he prepares to board the first Qatar Airways flight bound for Cairo after the resumption of flights between Qatar and Egypt (AFP)

Egypt and Qatar have agreed to normalise relations, the Egyptian foreign ministry announced on Wednesday, following in the footsteps of other Arab countries in ending the three-year boycott of the small Gulf nation.

"The Arab Republic of Egypt and the state of Qatar have exchanged two official notes today, 20 January according to which the two countries agreed to resume diplomatic relations," the ministry said in a statement.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in cutting ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of being too close to Iran and of backing Islamist militants, charges Doha denies.

The quartet agreed to heal the rift at a Gulf summit on 5 January in Saudi Arabia, after a flurry of diplomatic activity by outgoing US President Donald Trump's administration.

On 8 January, Qatari finance minister flew to Cairo to attend the inauguration of the Qatari-funded St Regis hotel.

On Monday, the first direct flights since 2017 between Qatar and the Egypt and the UAE took to the skies.

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The first commercial flight from Qatar to Egypt in three and a half years, an EgyptAir service to Cairo, took off from windswept Doha airport.

It was followed shortly after by the arrival of an Air Arabia flight from Sharjah in the UAE.

The resumption of flights from Doha to Cairo will simplify travel for the large contingent of Egyptians living in Qatar.

As many as 300,000 Egyptians call Qatar home, according to official statistics, but many were unable to travel to Egypt during the crisis. 

Protests over flights

In May, frustrated Egyptians protested outside the compound housing Egypt's then-empty embassy in Doha.

Following the demonstration, 18 repatriation flights to Egypt operated via neutral Oman to comply with Cairo's ban on direct air traffic.

A Qatar Airways plane was due to also make the trip to Cairo later Monday.

Flights between Doha and Saudi Arabia, which has also opened its land border to Qatar, resumed on 11 January.

The row complicated regional travel, divided families and raised costs faced by Qatari businesses.

Mustafa Ahmed, 38, an Egyptian technical engineer, said he was "very happy".

"With direct flights, life will be easier, especially for families and children, avoiding the torment of changing airports and planes and waiting for hours for transit flights," he told AFP.

Egyptians in Qatar work in a number of sectors including education, healthcare and engineering.

Thousands of Qatar's majority-expatriate workforce, however, have lost their jobs as a result of a downturn caused by the coronavirus epidemic.