The foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are scheduled to meet Wednesday in Cairo to discuss their next move on relations with Qatar, having severed diplomatic relations and imposed sanctions on the gulf country for close to a month.
The Cairo meeting convenes upon the invitation of Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and is expected to last several hours..
An announcement may cap the meeting that should, according to an informed Egyptian source, ‘send Qatar a clear message that the countries involved are serious about seeing a real change in the attitude of Doha when it comes to basically interfering in the internal affairs of other Arab states – the four countries involved in the diplomatic boycott but also other countries where Qatar has been playing a destructive role, including Syria and Libya.”
The critical meeting comes at the end of a 48-hour extension of a 10-day ultimatum imposed by Cairo, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama on Doha requiring it to either accommodate a list of 13 demands or face increased diplomatic and economic constraints.
The countries agreed to the extension of the mandate upon the request of Kuwait, which has been trying to mediate a political compromise to end the Qatar crisis.
The Kuwaiti foreign minister has met with Qatari and later Saudi officials over the past two days to convey what one Arab diplomat qualified as "a limited Qatari openness to discuss some demands put forward by some but not all of the four countries, provided that any political agreement is conducted in a way Doha would see as compatible with its rights as a sovereign state and not a dictation of policies as put forward in the 13-point list of demands."
The demands made by the four countries, which were leaked immediately as they were sent to Doha, include what the three Gulf states and Egypt qualify as a direct involvement by Qatar in supporting terror and in interfering in their internal affairs.
Those included the extradition of political opposition figures – designated by the four states as terror elements, with Egypt in particular demanding that Qatar hand over Muslim Brotherhood figures -- and halting financial support for groups designated as having "terror associations," which aim to cause instability in those countries as well as in other Arab states that influence the interests of the boycotting countries.
The demands also include ending any Turkish military presence in Qatar and limiting relations with Iran, the arch-foe of Saudi Arabia which is said by most Arab diplomats to be at the forefront of the anti-Qatar campaign.
According to the Egyptian source, Qatar has told the Kuwaiti mediator that "in principle" it is willing to ask some of the political figures it has been hosting under the disapproval of both Riyadh and the Abu Dahbi to leave Doha for other countries.
Qatar also said it is willing to revise its support for some groups operating in Syria and Libya.
The source said that Qatar also showed a willingness to encourage the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood to refrain from taking up any direct political activities while residing in Doha.
The source said, however, that Doha is neither willing to eliminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar nor cut its relations with Iran, arguing that these are sovereign matters.
UAE officials, including the foreign minister and the ambassador of Abu Dhabi in Washington, publicly ruled out the chance of a military attack on Qatar but promised “severe” measures against Doha should it fail to honour the demands of the three Gulf countries and Egypt.
However, according to the Egyptian source, this does not exclude "joint military consultations" among the four countries "to take into consideration any emergencies."
The source explained that “it all started with grave security concerns over potential Qatari association with some Iranian plans to instigate ethnic strife in Saudi Arabia and to interfere in the internal political set up of Riyadh."
The source added that there is "a tentative agreement that a joint military presence of the four countries in Bahrain could be established to be ready to face any challenges."
“Bahrain is a soft target for sectarian incitement, given of course the high proportion of Shia in the population there,” he said.
Meanwhile, a Cairo-based European diplomat said that there is enough support for the “wise efforts of Kuwait” to find an exit from this “feud,” which he said is interfering with the security and stability of the Gulf “and, for that matter, of the Arab countries that are going through turmoil, particularly Libya and Syria.”
The European diplomat said that the political developments in Saudi Arabia, especially the change of crown prince from Mohamed Ben Nayyef, who was said to be closely associated with the ruling Qatari family, to Mohammed Bin Salman, the son of the ruling king “should help ease out the political tension in the Gulf.”
The diplomat added that the initial willingness of Qatar to reduce support for some groups in Libya and Syria would also appease Abu Dhabi, which is opposed to those groups.
“It is not impossible to reach a compromise there – but of course Riyadh and Abu Dhabi would not be fully excluding the political line that Qatar has in both countries."
"Any future political arrangement in Syria and Libya would have to include Islamist perspectives because those have been supported not only by Qatar but also by Turkey, which maintains strong ties with the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia,” the European diplomat added.