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Egypt Signs AlUla Agreement for Arab Reconciliation With Qatar
A journalist watches the arrival of the Qatar envoy ahead of the 41st Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in the city of AlUla in northwestern Saudi Arabia, Jan. 5, 2021. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images)

Egypt Signs AlUla Agreement for Arab Reconciliation With Qatar

Reactions in Cairo to accord with Doha run the gamut from celebration to extreme skepticism

Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Arab quartet – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt − have restored diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar after three and a half years of boycott.

The rift between Cairo and Doha has been one of the deepest, with Egyptian media outlets fiercely attacking Qatar’s rulers, poking fun at its size, and insulting media outlets based in the Gulf state.

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi was invited to attend Tuesday’s Gulf Cooperation Council summit in AlUla, Saudi Arabia, but his foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, filled in and signed the reconciliation agreement.

At the conclusion of the one-day summit, and in a sign that Egypt is fully on board, Cairo announced it would open its airspace to Qatar.

“This comes within the framework of Egypt’s constant keenness for solidarity among the Arab quartet states and in their orientation toward consolidating ranks, and removing any disagreements among brotherly Arab nations,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry affirmed “the need to build on this step to enhance joint Arab work and enhance relations between Arab nations, based on goodwill and noninterference in the Arab countries’ domestic affairs.

“Egypt values all honest efforts made over the past years, especially by Kuwait, to achieve reconciliation between the countries of the Arab quartet and Qatar,” the statement continued.

After the summit on Tuesday, Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin flew to Cairo for meetings with officials, on a Qatari plane that crossed Saudi airspace.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said the AlUla agreement restores full relations between Qatar and the four countries that boycotted it, noting that the quartet countries have all agreed to restore relations with Qatar, including flights. He affirmed a complete return to diplomatic relations and all that serves the ties among the GCC countries.

Media Reactions

Media and political sources close to Egyptian authorities said the regime used media professionals as a tool to manage negotiations with Qatar and to ensure that the el-Sisi regime is not embarrassed before its people, and that the media’s speculation does not necessarily reflect what Egypt will do in the future. Their role is to convince the Egyptian people of the absolute correctness of the political leadership’s actions, the sources said. They do this only because of their proximity to authorities and to preserve their privileges and benefits, the sources added.

According to Egyptian media reports, Cairo submitted a number of demands to mediator Kuwait for ending the dispute with Doha.

Egyptian lawmaker Mustapha Bakri, a Nasserite member of parliament and a journalist, said in a tweet on his official Twitter page: “Hours before the reconciliation summit with Qatar, [Qatar’s] Al Jazeera is still broadcasting its poisons against Egypt. Do not think that Qatar will back down from its project and do not neglect Arab national security. In order to compliment the Americans, reconciliation with Qatar opens the way for it to commit more plots against all of us.”

On Monday, Amr Adib, an Egyptian who is the highest-paid broadcaster in the Arab world, said on his program Elhekaya (“The Show”), broadcasted by the Saudi-owned MBC Group: “For the umpteenth time, my position on the Qatari file is clear: If you will deal with Egypt with respect and in a good manner like other countries, then you are welcome. If not, then I am personally against this matter [reconciliation with Qatar]. No one will accept [Al Jazeera and other media] incitement, attacks and use of opponents against Egypt. I doubt that things will get better between Egypt and Qatar.”

Television presenter Ahmed Moussa, known for his absolute support for the el-Sisi regime, said: “The AlUla summit ended with a statement. They were waiting for President el-Sisi to attend the summit. I tell you there are no reconciliations at all. This is just a statement and the Egyptian airspace has not been opened to Qatar Airways.”

Political analyst Ashraf Rady told The Media Line, “The conciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar will lead to new alignments in the Gulf and the wider region.

“However, the UAE’s skeptical reaction puts pressure on Egypt’s policy. Signals from Cairo are mixed. Egypt still has its own reasons to keep the boycott of Qatar in place. Apart from Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brothers, its policies in Gaza, Libya and Turkey are considered hostile to Cairo’s interests, and it is not clear how the two countries can reach agreements and move toward cooperative actions on these divisive issues,” Rady said.

“In my opinion, the important issue for the policymakers in Cairo is how they can balance their policies to reconcile Emirati and Saudi positions toward Doha and guarantee Egypt’s interests at the same time,” he said.

“Contrary to American and Israeli expectations of this conciliation, there are no indications that it will produce any alliance against Iran. On the contrary, it will change the course of [US President Donald] Trump’s policy and anticipate the change in Washington after January 20, and it is expected to see some change in Egyptian policies due to this change,” he continued.

“The challenge to Egypt’s leaders is how to change its position and get some concessions from Qatar and without angering the Emiratis,” Rady said.

Hisham Kassem, a democracy activist and a former publisher of the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, told The Media Line, “Over the past 70 years [i.e., since the beginning of military rule in the country], Egypt’s rulers have destroyed its geopolitical position and the geopolitical role imposed on it. And Egypt has become without weight in African or Arab countries.

“The only reason other countries may have Egypt participate in any role is because of the geographical importance of the Egyptian state. The foundations of Egyptian foreign policy have been destroyed,” he said.

“It is still not understood why el-Sisi supported the boycott and its hostile position against Qatar. … What are the objectives? Did Egypt want to do something against Qatar and wait until the Gulf boycott to act against it?” Kassem asked.

“Why was el-Sisi following in Trump’s path? What will happen after Trump’s fall?”

“Qatar has not made any concessions except to stop international lawsuits against the Arab quartet countries. We do not know of any reason for reconciliation except for American pressure. There is no guarantee that the situation will not reverse and the conflict will resume,” he continued.

“I do not think that there will be an alliance between the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain and Israel. … ‘Alliance’ is a big word and they are between states and not between sheikhs and leaders only. If one of them dies, someone will replace him, and he may adopt a completely different policy. There is no political maturity in foreign policy and it all depends on personal relationships,” Kassem said.

Senator Abdel-Moneim Said, the CEO of Al-Masry Al-Youm and head of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies (ECSS)’s advisory board, told The Media Line that “in fact, relations with Qatar are returning to what they were four years ago. This is the first fact.

“The second fact is that any conflict in history does not end suddenly, and the way to end this conflict was through the AlUla Declaration, in which they agreed on many big issues such as the Iranian threat. … What remains, then, is for states to resolve the dispute bilaterally,” he said.

“The dispute between Egypt and Qatar remains confined to two files: the media attacks and incitement via Al Jazeera, and support for the Muslim Brotherhood and providing them with a safe haven in Qatar. A few days ago, Qatar made a change in the editorial management of Al Jazeera, quietly, in a kind of substitution. And here was the nod from Qatar,” the senator continued.

“The second gesture from Qatar to Egypt came through the visit of the minister of finance of Qatar, which is an indication of the return of economic relations, which were untouched and far from the political dispute between the two countries, as is also the case with the Egyptian-Turkish economic relations. The arrival of a Qatari minister to Egypt, this is the new political indicator,” Said added.

“The Brotherhood file remains and there is more than one model that Qatar can take and modify some of its positions to suit it. Qatar always tries to play a diplomatic role among enemies, and this is what made this small country an important country,” he said.

“Qatar also has an interest in settling disputes before organizing the FIFA [soccer] World Cup next year, which for them is the main event today and tomorrow and the greatest event in the history of Qatar, and it will need its neighbors,” Said concluded.

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