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Arab reconciliation: Veiled disagreements

What underpins the Al-Ula reconciliation agreement between Qatar and the Quartet?

Doaa El-Bey , Saturday 16 Jan 2021
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The reconciliation agreement with Qatar signed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain last week “is supposed to end three years of difference between the Quartet states and Qatar” said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity, reports Doaa El-Bey.

“However,” he added, “it remains unclear what sort of concessions, if any, Doha made to encourage Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] countries to end their blockade and restore full diplomatic relations.”

Abdallah Al-Ashaal, a former deputy to Egypt’s foreign minister, said that “as long as the details of the agreement are not revealed the door is open for speculation.”

Practically speaking, the agreement could itself contribute to another crisis between Qatar and the Quartet as long as the reasons for the original differences remain,” Al-Ashaal told the media this week.

“Egypt and the three Gulf states had asked Qatar, among other demands, to end its support for members of the Muslim Brotherhood and close Al-Jazeera. Yet the latest statement by Qatar’s foreign minister indicates the demands will not be met,” said the diplomat.

After signing the deal, Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdul-Rahman Al-Thani, the Qatari foreign minister, told the media that Doha would not be seeking to alter its bilateral relations with any state. “Bilateral relations are driven by sovereign decisions,” of the country,” he explained, adding that Al-Jazeera would continue to operate as before.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri signed the cooperation agreement with Qatar at last week’s 41st GCC summit in the Saudi city of Al-Ula.

“Egypt aims to enhance the joint Arab position as we face massive challenges in the region,” read a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry after the signing.

The statement acknowledged the effort that had gone into reaching the reconciliation, and stressed that consolidating relations between brotherly Arab countries must be based on good intentions and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs.

Following the signing Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud said Riyadh and its allies had agreed to restore full relations with Doha, including the resumption of flights. Saudi Arabia duly reopened its airspace and land and sea borders to Qatar.

“Today is… a full restoration of diplomatic ties. It will hopefully be a strong pillar for the future and stability of the region,” he told a press conference following the GCC summit.

Egypt is expected to open its airspace to Qatar only after Doha reduces its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, halts hostile Qatari media coverage and stops any interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017 after accusing Doha of supporting terrorist groups. Qatar has repeatedly denied the accusation while providing shelter to many members of the Muslim Brotherhood, listed by Egypt as a terrorist group since 2013. Hundreds of Brotherhood members fled to Qatar in the wake of president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster.

At the time the Quartet’s conditions for lifting their blockade included curbing diplomatic ties and joint military cooperation with Iran, severing all ties to terrorist organisations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, closing Al-Jazeera television, ending the Turkish military presence in Qatar and joint military cooperation with Turkey, ceasing to interfere in sovereign countries’ internal affairs, and ending the practice of granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia.

Kuwait repeatedly tried to facilitate reconciliation but its efforts were hampered by Doha’s refusal to discuss the Turkish military presence on its soil, its relations with Iran and its policy of offering a safe haven to members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last month Shoukri said in an interview that Cairo wanted a reconciliation agreement that spelt out the obligations that would need to be met by all the parties in order to reinforce the principles of good neighbourliness, mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.

“The coming weeks will show how far Doha is willing to go to meet the demands of the Quartet and prove its sincere intentions toward reconciliation,” said the diplomat.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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