What Did Egypt Get Out of Going Along With the Qatar Blockade?

      Published on Thursday, 28 January , 2021      1307 Views     
What Did Egypt Get Out of Going Along With the Qatar Blockade?


It wasn’t ever that clear why Egypt was going along with the Saudi- and Emirati-led blockade of Qatar, beyond some well-known disagreements over the Muslim Brotherhood.

After all, the blockade was ultimately an economic pressure campaign by those two very wealthy Gulf monarchies, with the help of fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member Bahrain, to isolate their smaller neighbor—cutting off trade, travel and diplomatic ties to essentially try and force Qatar to get in line.





So what did Egypt really have to do with it, away from the Gulf and with nothing like the economic leverage of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates? For the roughly 300,000 Egyptians living and working in Qatar, many in the construction industry, the blockade cut them off from home. Was President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi simply backing it because of his staunch opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists that Doha had supported? Or was he dutifully following his patrons in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, who have helped fund his regime?

Whatever Sisi’s various motivations, Egypt became the first country last week among that anti-Qatari bloc to officially reestablish diplomatic ties with Doha, following the breakthrough agreement earlier this month to end the three-year rift in the Gulf. Direct flights have already resumed between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors, but Saudi and Emirati officials have also signaled that reconciliation may be a slower process. Saudi Arabia has insisted that its embassy in Doha will reopen soon, while the UAE has said it will take its time.

There may be additional wrangling behind the scenes, though, between Cairo and Doha. Citing two Egyptian intelligence sources, Reuters reported last week that an official in Qatar’s Foreign Ministry had pledged in a recent meeting with Egyptian and Emirati security officials “that Qatar would not interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs.” It sounds more like a talking point from an Egyptian official than a quote from a Qatari one, since Egypt has long accused Islamists of doing just that—with Qatar’s help.

What’s more, the Qatari official also reportedly said there would be “a change of orientation” in Al-Jazeera, the Qatari-owned and -funded news outlet that has been a thorn in the side of the Egyptian government, as well as others throughout the region, including the Gulf. That sounds suspiciously close to one of the blockade’s original 13 sweeping demands to Doha—that it shut down Al-Jazeera and its affiliates—which the Qatari government had obviously refused to do.

Sure enough, Qatari officials disputed the Egyptian claims to Reuters, denying that any such meeting had even taken place. Diplomatic relations between Egypt and Qatar, a Qatari official said, were restored “via written correspondence referencing the Al-Ula Agreement” from the recent GCC summit in Saudi Arabia that ended the Gulf dispute. The Al-Ula Agreement, admittedly vague and heavy on platitudes about “unity” and “cooperation,” makes no mention of Al-Jazeera.

The agreement does say that Egypt’s signature on it “confirms the strengthening of diplomatic relations between Egypt and GCC states.” Which is probably what Sisi hoped to get out of backing the blockade all along—close ties to and perhaps even honorary membership in a club of oil-rich Gulf monarchies whose largesse and support he has depended on since taking power in 2013.

But Sisi’s regime was also probably balancing those payoffs with the costs of cutting off much-needed Qatari investment in Egypt for too long. Just hours after the GCC summit wrapped up in Al-Ula, Qatar’s finance minister landed in Cairo to inaugurate a new luxury hotel overlooking the Nile, developed by Qatari Diar, the giant construction and real estate arm of Qatar’s vast sovereign wealth fund. It was the first visit to Egypt by a Qatari official in nearly three years. The hotel, the St. Regis, has been in the works for almost a decade, with various delays because of the blockade, and cost an estimated $1.3 billion to build. Its grand opening looked more like an economic summit: Outgoing U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was there, along with Egypt’s finance minister and other officials and business executives no doubt looking to strike more deals now that the blockade is over.

On the Record

“One of the people said the agreement was signed about an hour before Biden was sworn into office.” Perhaps Donald Trump’s last act as president was sealing a roughly $23 billion arms sale of 50 advanced F-35 fighter jets, 18 armed MQ-9 Reaper drones and other high-tech weapons to the UAE—a deal, in the works for a while, that Joe Biden had said he would reexamine as president. A source told Reuters that the agreement was struck at the last possible moment on Inauguration Day. The Senate had rejected an attempt to block the sale last month.

“There will be no repentance, there will be no apologies.” France is vowing to review its colonial legacy in Algeria—sort of. Following the release of a highly anticipated report commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron on addressing the history of France’s 132-year colonial rule in Algeria, and the brutal Algerian War that finally led to its end, the French government is setting up a “memories and truth commission” and pledging reconciliation. But it won’t apologize to Algerians for colonial abuses, as an adviser to Macron told Politico. Macron had called colonization a “crime against humanity” in 2017 while visiting Algiers as a presidential candidate—a statement that inflamed the French right. Macron says he still stands by it, although he hasn’t ever said it again.

On the Radar

Bagdad’s first major suicide attack in three years. At least 32 people were killed in twin suicide bombings at a market in central Baghdad last Thursday, and the Islamic State claimed responsibility. Maj. Gen. Tahsin al-Khafaji, a spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, blamed a “sleeper cell of the Islamic State,” which he said “wanted to prove its existence.” Days earlier, the Iraqi government had agreed to hold early elections in October.

The Syrian connection to the Beirut blast? “New information suggests that the thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate that exploded at the Port of Beirut on Aug. 4, killing more than 200 people and doing some $15 billion in property damage, may have been intended for the Syrian government,” Anchal Vohra reports for Foreign Policy, citing a recent investigation by a Lebanese filmmaker, Feras Hatoum, that aired on Al Jadeed, a local TV network. Lebanese officials have maintained that the ammonium nitrate, a common fertilizer that can also be used to manufacture explosives, was bound for Mozambique, but Hatoum’s reporting has “established a link between three Syrian businessmen who backed Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war and what appears to be a shell company that bought the explosives.”



Frederick Deknatel is the managing editor of World Politics Review.


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Category World | 2021/01/28 latest update at 11:00 PM
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