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Egypt-Qatar reconciliation drive 'energised' by lavish investments

The erstwhile foes begun their detente over a year ago, with signs the two Arab countries are nearing normalisation
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) meets Qatar's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani in Cairo, on 25 May 2021 (AFP/file photo)
By MEE correspondent in Cairo

Egypt and Qatar will establish a new panel to push forward their cooperation, in an apparent turnaround in relations between the two countries after years of tension. 

Qatar also said it would invest $5bn in the Egyptian economy in the coming few years, which will add to the billions of dollars Doha has already invested.

During a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo on 29 March, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is keen on cementing “close” and “brotherly” relations with Cairo in ways that boost regional security and stability. 

"Sheikh Tamim appreciates the efforts President Sisi makes in pushing joint Arab action forward and preserving regional peace and security during this critical stage," the Qatari foreign minister said. 

Change of course

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Relations between Egypt and Qatar began to thaw in January 2021. Their agreement to mend fences was part of a larger reconciliation effort in Al-Ula, northwestern Saudi Arabia, between Qatar and an Arab bloc consisting of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain

Those four states cut off trade and diplomatic relations with Qatar in June 2017, after accusing Doha of interfering in their affairs, supporting terrorism and destabilising the region. Doha had accused the same states of economically and politically besieging Qatar and making life hard for its citizens. 

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Since 2021, Qatar and the states of the aforementioned Arab bloc have been taking serious steps to bury their differences and chart a new course, Qatari analysts said.

"Many things have changed since the agreement was signed in Al-Ula in January 2021, amid sincere efforts by Qatar and its four other brotherly states to bring their tensions down to zero," Qatari writer Jaber al-Harmi told Middle East Eye. "These developments will reflect positively on joint Arab action, especially given Qatar's effective role in the Arab and international arenas." 

Foreign Minister Abdulrahman arrived in Cairo on 28 March, his third visit to the Egyptian capital since the Al-Ula summit. Cairo and Doha have been trying to find a common ground since the summit, with their diplomats meeting several times to overcome differences. 

At a press briefing following his meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, on the day of his arrival, Abdulrahman said problems in relations with Cairo were erased by Al-Ula. He added that a joint follow-up committee had been doing its work in a “straight” and “honest” manner since the summit. 

Reconciliation steps have seen the mutual appointment of ambassadors and the operation of direct flights between Egypt and Qatar for the first time since 2017. 

'The reconciliation takes place at a high speed, reflecting international and regional developments'

- Samaa Suleiman, Egyptian senate Committee on Foreign Relations

These measures, Egyptian analysts say, reflect a keen desire on the part of decision-makers in the two countries to normalise relations in the future.

"Egypt and Qatar have apparently reached a common ground," Samaa Suleiman, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations in the Egyptian Senate, told MEE. "The reconciliation takes place at a high speed, reflecting international and regional developments." 

Although the reconciliation drive started over a year ago, it is being energised by an ongoing flurry of political and diplomatic activity, political analysts say. Abdulrahman's visit to Cairo came hard on the heels of a mini Arab summit in Aqaba, Jordan. The Aqaba meeting, attended by President Sisi, King Abdullah II of Jordan, UAE Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, and a Saudi minister, came only three days after Sisi and bin Zayed met Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. 

It also came one day after a meeting in the Negev, southern Israel, between the foreign ministers of Israel, the US, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. 

Developments on Iran's nuclear status, including the ongoing negotiations in Vienna, the war in Ukraine, and developments in Yemen, will speed up reconciliation between Arab states, Egyptian analysts say.   

"Politics is a strong factor in the ongoing reconciliation effort between Egypt and Qatar," Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University, told MEE. "Improved relations between Egypt, on one hand, and Gulf states, on the other, will change the rules of the political game in the region." 

Hurdles to reconciliation

During his meeting with Abdulrahman, President Sisi said the security of Gulf countries is inseparable from the security of his own country. He also praised “tangible” progress in Qatari-Egyptian relations. This progress, he said, boosts efforts at preserving the security and stability of the region. 

The Egyptian president also praised the role played by Qatar in solving the problems facing Arab countries, a sign of mutual appreciation between the two states. 

However, the road to full reconciliation between Cairo and Doha contains certain hurdles, local analysts say. These include the Gaza Strip, where Egypt and Qatar play important roles. Egypt has security and strategic interests in Gaza, which shares borders with the Sinai Peninsula in northeast Egypt.

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Qatar also plays an important role in the reconstruction of Gaza and has leverage over the Gaza-ruling Hamas movement. 

"So, agreement between the two countries can push Gaza's reconstruction forward as well as maintain the current truce between Gaza and Israel, which will contribute to boosting regional security," Fahmi said. 

Egypt and Qatar also lock horns over Syria's return to the Arab League, from which it was kicked out in 2011.

Egypt wants Syria to return to the league, whereas Qatar has some reservations in this regard. 

Libya also used to be a contentious issue between the two countries. Qatar used to back the political forces that control western Libya, whereas Egypt supported the forces that control eastern Libya, including the Libyan National Army. Nevertheless, at his press briefing with Shoukry on 28 March, Abdulrahman said his country does not want rifts inside Libya to open the door to any action by military means.

"We hope Libyans will reach consensus among each other," the Qatari foreign minister said. 

He said his country supports Libya's political path and the recommendations of meetings on Libya in Geneva, Berlin and Paris, which hope to pave the road to free and fair elections in the North African state. 

Economic benefits

Reconciliation between Egypt and Qatar will bring about a large number of economic benefits for the two countries, despite the intricate nature of politics between them, specialists said.

Around 350,000 Egyptians work in Qatar and send hundreds of millions of dollars in remittances back home annually, money that Egypt is badly in need of, especially now the war in Ukraine is taking a heavy toll on its economy, the specialists add.

Qatari investments in Egypt amount to $5bn, according to former Qatari finance minister Ali Sharif al-Emadi. The additional $5bn to be invested by Qatar in the coming few years will contribute to job creation in Egypt, advance the country's development, and encourage the Qatari private sector to invest. 

"Egypt has turned into a magnet for foreign investments, in general," Khaled al-Shafie, the head of the local think tank, Capital Center for Economic Studies, told MEE. "Investors are looking at where important states pour their investments in order to follow in their footsteps." 

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