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Old friendships never die: Egyptian-Gulf relations after Morsi

The ouster of Mohamed Morsi has been warmly welcomed in Arab Gulf States, except Qatar, with aid now following to prop up Egypt's shaky economy

Bassem Aly , Sunday 14 Jul 2013
Egyptian-Gulf Relations
Egypt's interim President Adli Mansour (R) meets with UAE's National Security Adviser Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan at El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo July 9, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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The Arab dimension embodies a vital cornerstone of Egypt’s foreign policy towards the Middle East, where a large number of political and economic interests are shared.
 
This rule explains the keenness of the new Egyptian administration to restore ties with Gulf States which witnessed substantial deterioration during President Mohamed Morsi’s rule.
 
Yet the features and extent of cooperation in such bilateral relationships remain unclear.
 
Qatar: The exception
 
It had been crystal clear. Qatar was the only member-state of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that expressed no fear over the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt.
 
The energy-rich country presented aid worth billions of dollars to Egypt in the aftermath of Mubarak’s ouster in 2011.
 
The picture became clearer still after the election of Morsi, a Brotherhood leading figure, as president in mid-2012. Qatar became a key financier of Islamist movements that reached office in Arab Spring countries.
 
Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Qatar-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), spoke to Ahram Online on this aspect.
 
Stephens argued that Qatari money flowed into “Rachid Ghannouchi’s Ennahda Party in Tunisia, to Ali Al-Sallabi and Abdul Hakim Belhadj in Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and political Islamist movements in Syria.”
 
Ironically, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the small state’s new emir, congratulated Adly Mansour after taking the oath as Egypt's new transitional president 4 July, a step preceded by military intervention to depose Morsi in response to unprecedented mass protests nationwide against the president.
 
“Luckily the new emir has come to power at just the right time. Although very much party to the execution of his father’s policies, now he can appear to be his own man and work on a new set of relations and redefine Qatar’s place in the regional order,” Stephens said.
 
Sheikh Tamim adopted new cabinet changes after he came to power, after Sheikh Hamad, his father, abdicated in his favour.
 
The Arab world’s youngest ruler, at 33, ordered Brotherhood-leaning Sheikh Youssef Al-Qaradawi to leave Qatar and withdrew Qatari nationality from him.
 
The step aimed at proving Doha's neutrality towards the political situation in Egypt. But Hasan Tariq Al-Hasan, a Bahrain-based political analyst, highlighted the expected continuation of Qatar’s Al-Jazeera TV channel's line on Egypt.
 
“Al-Jazeera’s conspicuously pro-Morsi coverage of recent events in Egypt only helped reinforce this image. Unless Qatar miraculously performs a turnaround of some sort, it seems destined to take a back seat when it comes to the Gulf’s relationship with post-Morsi Egypt, at least for the foreseeable future,” Al-Hasan claimed.
 
On 4 July, Egyptian security forces broke into the studios of Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr and locked its employees inside shortly arresting the crews of several Islamic TV channels.
 
Egypt and the rest of Gulf
 
For other Gulf regimes, the end of Brotherhood rule was the good news.
 
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait have pledged between them $12 billion in aid to help Egypt sustain its exhausted economy.
 
Moreover, a chain of salutary statements came from the Gulf, expressing satisfaction over the removal of Morsi.
 
"We followed with all consideration and satisfaction the national consensus that your brotherly country is witnessing, and which had played a prominent role in leading Egypt peacefully out of the crisis it had faced," UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahayan said in a cable to Mansour.
 
Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and Saudi King Abdullah both congratulated Egypt's interim president.
 
Moataz Salama, an expert on Gulf affairs at the Cairo-based Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, pointed out that the Muslim Brotherhood did not pay attention to the “sensitivity” of Egyptian-Gulf relations.
 
“Millions of Egyptians work in the Gulf and have settled their lives there; those people send remittances worth billions,” he said.
 
Salama accentuated other strategic, political and even religious bonds that connect Egypt with the Gulf. “If the Muslim Brotherhood had succeeded in power in Egypt, then such a scenario [would appear] possible in Saudi Arabia or the UAE where Islamists share the same ideological background. That was how the Gulf monarchies were thinking."
 
Large numbers of Egyptians and Emiratis were arrested by the UAE for setting up “an illegal branch of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood,” a case that caused serious tensions between the Islamist movement and Abu Dhabi.
 
Some Gulf officials, such as Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan, even publicly attacked the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
Khalfan, known for his hostility towards Islamists, offered his "condolences to the Arab and Muslim nation on the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood who do not represent Islam" in tweets published after Morsi was declared winner of Egypt’s 2012 presidential poll.
 
“Gulf leaders’ show of support to army chief  El-Sisi illustrate the extent of relief in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE at the ouster of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, whom they perceived as dangerously close to Iran and to their own domestic opposition groups,” Al-Hasan noted.
 
He concluded by saying that the Gulf will certainly be more willing to engage with Egypt now, providing a massive liquidity injection to help keep the “Egyptian state afloat.”
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