Egypt hints at severance of diplomatic ties with Qatar

Qatar media arm pours fuel on flames of friction

CAIRO - Egypt-Qatar bilateral relations are currently at stake after Doha issued a statement Friday, lashing out at the Egypt interim government for its labelling of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, experts said.
Ties between Egypt and Qatar, a firm supporter of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and his Brotherhood group, have been deteriorating since the military ouster of Morsi in July, following massive protests against his one-year turbulent rule.
Al-Jazeera television, based in Qatar, has also incensed Egypt's government with its coverage of a police crackdown on persistent Brotherhood protests since Morsi's overthrow in July.
"The Qatari ambassador was summoned over a statement by the Qatari foreign ministry," foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said.
Late Friday, the Qatari foreign ministry condemned deadly clashes between police and Muslim Brotherhood protesters across Egypt, which killed at least 17 people.
Qatar said it was "concerned by the increase in casualties from the crackdown on protests."
It also criticised Egypt's labelling the Brotherhood last month as a terrorist group, which tightened the screws on the beleaguered movement.
The decision was "a precursor to a shoot-to-kill policy against demonstrators," said the statement, published by the official Qatari QNA news agency.
Doha has backed the Brotherhood in several countries swept by the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, sparking a backlash from the Islamists' opponents, who accused Qatar of using its natural gas wealth to prop up the organisation.
During Morsi's single year in power, Doha pledged billions of dollars in aid to support Egypt's battered economy, prompting accusations from Morsi's opposition that it was trying to buy influence in the highly nationalistic country.
Doha now harbours several Islamists who fled the crackdown on the Brotherhood following Morsi's overthrow, after massive popular protests.
Egypt has called on Arab states to respect a 1998 counter-terrorism treaty and hand over Islamists wanted for trial.
One of them is Yousef Qaradawi, a prominent Egyptian-born cleric based in Doha.
Qaradawi faces trial with Morsi and 129 other suspects accused of involvement in jail breaks and attacks on police stations during the early 2011 uprising that toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak.
He rose to prominence through his show on Al-Jazeera, which Egypt accuses of biased coverage of the Brotherhood.
Mohammad Al Saeed Idris, head of Arab and Regional Studies Department at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said Egypt has always been keen on maintaining ties with Qatar but the latter has chosen to side with the Brotherhood at the expense of ties with Egypt.
"Egypt always hoped that Qatar would respect their bilateral ties as a fellow Arab state and not interfere in its internal affairs," he said.
Idris added that the recent Qatari statement may frustrate the mediation efforts of some Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to release the tension between Egypt and Qatar and urge the oil-rich state to reconsider its foreign policy with Cairo.
Al Sayyid Amin Shalabi, executive secretary of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, said the Qatari criticism is expected to put Doha ties with Cairo at stake and maintain the tension in their relations.
"Qatar does not have to maintain a certain position on the Egyptian crisis while big powers consider it as an Egyptian domestic affair," the ex-diplomat said.
Shalabi expressed belief that the future ties between Egypt and Qatar depend on the Qatari rulers and their acceptance of the new development in Egypt.
Omar al-Hassan, head of London-based Gulf Center for Strategic Studies, still sees that it is not too late to fix the Egypt-Qatar ties.
"There is no such a thing as too late in politics," the Arab political expert said, adding that it is in the best interest of Qatar to maintain a united policy with the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states regarding the Egyptian issue.
Hassan noted that four of the six GCC countries support the current Egyptian leadership, namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, while Oman is just neutral.
"If Qatar starts normalizing ties with Egypt and puts an end to media campaigns against the Egyptian government, it could mark a beginning for a release in the tense relations," Hassan said.
He added that Egypt's stability reflects on the stability of the whole region. "Therefore, most Gulf states see that overcoming the ongoing chaos in Egypt is part of regional stability and security."