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Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Qatar on the Brotherhood trail

The tour by Qatari Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani of Jordan, Tunisia and Algeria this week was designed to support Qatari-Turkish efforts to resurrect the Muslim Brotherhood

Ahmed Mostafa , Thursday 27 Feb 2020
Qatar on the Brotherhood trail
Abdullah II and Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani in Amman (photo: AFP)
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Qatari Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani went on a tour of three Arab countries this week, beginning with Jordan, passing through Tunisia and ending with Algeria. Qatar's foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and finance minister Ali Shareef Al-Emadi were with him. 

Though the official goal of the tour as stated by the Qatari official media was to “discuss bolstering bilateral relations, exchanging views on regional issues, and the latest international developments,” the emir seemed to be following in the footsteps of his ally Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey’s military intervention in Syria and Libya would not have been possible without Qatari support, especially as Turkey is in serious economic difficulties. A few days before starting his tour, Al-Thani telephoned Erdogan to “discuss matters of mutual interest.”

“It doesn’t need artificial intelligence to guess what those ‘matters of mutual interest’ are,” said one Gulf analyst in Dubai. “Erdogan is spearheading the effort to resurrect terrorism in Libya and bolster the so-called political umbrella of terror groups in the Ikhwan [the Muslim Brotherhood], and Qatar is still on its same old track of supporting and financing this,” he said.

The three countries on the tour all have active Political Islam groups of different sizes, though all are associated with the main group that originated in Egypt and nurtured almost all the militant and terrorist groups in the region in recent decades.

The groups share allegiance with similar groups in Syria and Libya. As the Brotherhood has lost support in Egypt and Sudan and other countries, it has been trying to impose so-called Political Islam in Libya and parts of Syria using mercenary-like terrorist militias.

Last month, Erdogan visited Algeria and met its new President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, but his claim that Algeria had agreed with Turkey to support Tripoli-based militias in Libya was later refuted by the Algerian authorities. The same thing happened with his visit to Tunisia in December, though last month he also met speaker of the Tunisian parliament and leader of the Brotherhood-affiliated Ennahda Party Rachid Al-Ghannouchi in Istanbul.

In December, King Abdullah II of Jordan visited Turkey and also met Erdogan.

Many Gulf pundits say that the Qatari emir is trying to secure what Erdogan could not – to sway the countries on his itinerary towards supporting the Turkish-Qatari efforts in Syria and Libya or to stay neutral.

Another issue of concern for Jordan is the US peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians that threatens the stability and security of Jordan. The country has been desperate to find support for its opposition to the plan, but Jordan is a close US ally and is dependent on American and Gulf financial aid.

Thus far, Turkey and Qatar have only offered “verbal” support for the king’s position, and there are fears that any further support for Amman might be tied to the rising political clout of the Jordanian branch of the Brotherhood.

Qatar is aware of Jordan’s economic hardships, and it also knows that Jordan is not getting the financial assistance it seeks from other Gulf countries.

Jordan reduced its relations with Qatar following the Quartet of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt’s boycotting of Qatar over its support for terrorism. But the economic squeeze in the region is not helping Jordan, and thousands of its expatriates are coming back home, depriving it of remittances in hard currency.

In 2018, Qatar announced the provision of work opportunities for 10,000 Jordanians. And during his first visit to Jordan since 2017 this week, the emir announced another 10,000 jobs in Qatar for Jordanians and donated $30 million to the retirement fund for the Jordanian military.

There might also be other perks but attaching them to any overture from Jordan towards the Qatar-sponsored Palestinian group Hamas will not be easy for Jordan. King Abdullah II sees Hamas as a destabilising element, even more than the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood.

The issue of Libya was also on the agenda, though this was not announced. Qatar, like Turkey, wants Jordan to stop supporting the Libyan National Army even if it does not take up a blunt position in favour of the Tripoli-based militias supported by Turkey and Qatar. It is not yet clear whether the emir’s efforts on his tour have met with greater success than the earlier efforts made by Erdogan.

In Tunisia, where Al-Thani arrived from Amman on Monday for a two-day visit, it is a relatively easier task. The Ennahda Party is still dominant in government in Tunisia, though it does not have complete power, and the new Tunisian president is avoiding taking strong stands on controversial issues.

Tunisia also needs economic support, but it fears the consequences of getting more involved in Libya, especially siding with militias supported by Qatar and Turkey.

The most ambiguous leg of the emir’s tour was to Algeria. The new rulers who came to power following the popular protests that ousted previous president Abdelaziz Bouteflika are trying to follow an independent foreign policy. On Libya, in particular, Algeria is trying to find a neutral position, though this may be impossible.

A few days ago, Tebboune ordered the deportation of the manager of the Ooredoo branch in Algeria after the Qatari-owned telecommunications company’s plans to lay off 900 workers was made public. Even the visit by the emir was clouded by an official statement from the presidency not confirming or denying media reports confirming the visit.

Developments in Libya in the coming days and weeks will be the main indicator of the success or failure of the emir’s tour of the three countries. The person most concerned about that outcome will be Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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