Following January’s signing of the Al-Ula agreement which signalled an end to the rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt, Egyptian-Qatari rapprochement has been among the fastest to develop.
On 1 November, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi met with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on the sidelines of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. It was their second meeting in two months, the first having taken place in late August during the Baghdad Conference on Cooperation and Partnership.
The Glasgow meeting was followed by EgyptAir opening a new office in the Qatari capital Doha. EgyptAir’s chairman, Amr Abul-Enein, said “the opening of an EgyptAir office in Doha is a further sign that Egypt-Qatar relations are getting back to normal.”
Meanwhile, the ambassadors of Qatar and Egypt have been holding meetings with officials in both countries to promote investment.
Following a meeting with Qatari Ambassador to Cairo Salem bin Mubarak Al-Shafi on 22 October, Nevine Gamea, the minister of trade and industry, said the governments of Egypt and Qatar were engaged in “intensive efforts to further political and economic rapprochement”.
“We want to push trade exchange higher and boost joint investments between the two countries,” said Gamea. “We have already agreed to form a joint trade committee to examine and follow-up on potential joint investments.”
During the meeting Gamea extended an invitation to Qatar’s Trade and Industry Minister Mohamed bin Hamad to visit Cairo to discuss further cooperation.
Al-Shafi said Egypt and Qatar are both seeking to consolidate bilateral cooperation. “Egypt offers strategic depth to all countries of the region,” said Al-Shafi. He went on to highlight existing Qatari investments in Egypt, particularly in the financial and real estate sectors, adding that Doha “is serious about pushing them to higher levels”.
Immediately following the Al-Ula Agreement an official Qatari delegation visited Cairo to inaugurate a $1.3 billion luxury hotel.
Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, deputy chairman of parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee, notes that during the four-year rift between Egypt and Qatar, Qatari investment in-flows continued. “Despite tense relations with Qatar and Turkey — the two main supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood — in recent years, Egypt never adopted an aggressive attitude towards the two countries’ investors.”
Semi-official figures suggest that during the years of boycott between Cairo and Doha, Qatar invested around $5 billion in Egypt, mainly in the real estate sector. The Qatari company Diar, which is behind the St Regis Hotel complex in Cairo, maintained Egyptian projects worth $3 billion, while Qatar Petroleum had a major stake in $4.4 billion Egyptian Refining Company which was launched in 2019.
Restoring full relations with Qatar will clear the path for increased Qatari investments in Egypt, particularly in the real estate, tourism, petroleum, energy, and banking sectors, says Abdel-Hamid. “Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund has an estimated $300 billion, and private Qatari investors are interested in the Egyptian market which has already attracted large investments from oil-rich Arab Gulf countries,” he said.
During a meeting with Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait on 30 October, Al-Shafi said “Egypt has taken measures which make the investment climate very attractive, and we are keen to tap this field.”
Maait said Egypt had created an attractive environment for foreign and local investors in national and mega development projects and “the government plans to push the contribution of the private sector — both local and foreign — to economic growth to over 50 per cent in the coming three years.” He added that “Qatari investors could tap into the privatisation when the government acts to enlarge the initial public offering programme by listing more state-owned companies in the coming months.”
On 21 October, Minister of Transport Kamel Al-Wazir met with his Qatari counterpart Jassim bin Saif Al-Sulaiti to discuss cooperation between the two countries. Al-Wazir said Egypt would welcome cooperation in the field of maritime transport as the country transforms itself into a hub for global trade and logistics.
On 25 October, Egypt’s Ambassador to Doha Amr Al-Sherbini met with Qatar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sultan bin Saad Al-Muraikhi to discuss ways to boost bilateral cooperation.
Despite the thaw in relations between Egypt and Qatar, many in Egypt remain wary of Qatar because of its connections with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the negative coverage Cairo receives from Doha-based Al-Jazeera.
Yosri Al-Moghazi, deputy chairman of parliament’s Arab Affairs Committee, said that “though Egypt and Qatar have adopted a pragmatic approach recently, concerns remain over Qatar’s alliance with Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam.”
“Cairo’s policy right now is to foster mutually beneficial cooperation with Qatar in the economic and investment spheres, while moving more cautiously on the political front.”
Al-Moghazi believes Al-Jazeera’s coverage was a major reason Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain imposed a blockade on Qatar. “Although the four countries have now restored relations with Qatar Al-Jazeera’s activities remain taboo.”
In August, Al-Jazeera began broadcasting live from Cairo for the first time in eight years. Yet sources agree the channel remains suspect because of its negative coverage of events Egypt.
“Al-Jazeera is still blacklisted, and its website remains blocked inside Egypt,” said a media source who asked not to be identified. He pointed out that for Al-Jazeera to operate officially in Egypt it must be licensed by the Higher Council for Media Regulation, and for this to happen the channel “needs to radically alter its coverage of Egypt and refrain from defending Islamist movements, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood”.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly