- The Media Line - https://themedialine.org -

Egypt and Qatar: Looks Can Be Deceiving

Last week, the front page of this very newspaper featured a photo of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry with his Qatari counterpart, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. Taken on the sidelines of a meeting of Arab states held in Cairo, the photo depicted the two men — neither one smiling — accompanied by the headline: “Egypt and Qatar restore relations after a five-year deadlock.” However, one couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the celebratory headline and the two men’s frowning faces. It is customary diplomatic protocol to put on a smile when meeting with foreign dignitaries, let alone when posing for a journalistic photo. But the two ministers refrained from this gesture. Why? This was the ministers’ first meeting since the signing of the Al-Ula statement in Saudi Arabia on January 5, which paved the way for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to restore their ties with Qatar. The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyasa even quoted Minister al-Thani just hours before the summit, claiming that his country is seeking to restore Egyptian-Qatari relations with “warmth.” For my part, I can only guess that the reason behind the overly-serious photo is that Cairo is still waiting for Qatar to prove that it can stand behind its promises. Following the 41st Summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), held in January in the Saudi town of Al-Ula, leaders of GCC member states signed a mutual statement affirming their willingness to achieve unity. But the strained relations between Egypt and Qatar cannot be restored overnight. It is more likely that between the signing of the declaration on January 5 and today, Cairo has been carefully observing Doha’s behavior in an attempt to test whether the words that appeared in the declaration have been met with corresponding moves on the ground aimed at establishing warm and durable relations between the two nations. Notably, Qatar’s state-sponsored media outlets still have a lot of work to do on their coverage of Egypt, which has been vitriolic and venomous over the course of the past few years. Once Egypt sees a real change in Qatar’s behavior, diplomatic gestures will follow. – Sliman Jawda (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)