Egypt’s parliament holds back on Qatar normalization

Egyptian parliament members have recently expressed their rejection of reconciliation with Qatar, claiming its attacks against the Egyptian state on its media channels continue.

Egyptian parliamentarians objected during a Jan. 26 parliament session to Egypt’s decision to reconcile with Qatar and restore Egyptian-Qatari relations in light of “ongoing attacks on Egypt.”

Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbors signed on Jan. 5 an agreement aimed at easing the economic and diplomatic boycott imposed on Doha since 2017. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt reached an agreement with their regional rival during a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the Saudi desert city of al-Ula.

Ahead of the signing of the agreement, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had clarified his country’s position on the Gulf reconciliation process, saying in a statement on Jan. 2, “The Egyptian policy focuses on achieving cooperation, building and supporting Arab solidarity as a solid strategic approach, within a framework of mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs, and adhering to sincere intentions to achieve the common interest, as well as maintaining solidarity to ward off risks threatening the Arab nations and safeguarding their national security.”

Kuwait had led efforts to mediate between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain on the other since the four countries cut ties with Qatar and imposed a blockade on the Gulf country over its ties to Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood in 2017. They had issued 13 demands to Qatar in return for reversing their actions. But Doha had rejected any measure that affects its national sovereignty and independence, noting at the same time its readiness for dialogue on the rule of parity and respect for sovereignty.

Following the Jan. 5 agreement, Egypt reopened its airspace to Qatari flights on Jan. 12 and resumed flights, following a similar step by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.

Meanwhile, Qatar resumed a series of economic projects in Egypt after receiving the necessary approvals, namely the CityGate project in New Cairo carried out by Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company.

On Jan. 20, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Egypt and Qatar exchanged two official memoranda, according to which the two countries agreed to resume diplomatic relations and commit to the reciprocal obligations contained in the al-Ula declaration.

Some 300,000 Egyptians currently reside in Qatar and work in various businesses and professions. Qatar didn’t interfere in the workers’ residences, giving them the freedom to either continue to work or return to Egypt. It was the Egyptian government that stopped the trips to Qatar.

Tensions between Egypt and Qatar had been building up in the past years over the Gulf country’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt banned following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Saudi efforts to mend the dispute in 2014 failed, and the crisis culminated in 2017 when Egypt joined Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain in cutting ties with Qatar over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian-Qatari relations have passed through critical stages since Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani assumed the emirate of Qatar on June 27, 1995. Relations between Cairo and Doha are divided into two stages — the first is before the January 25 revolution, where continuous tension prevailed with the Hosni Mubarak regime until a complete freeze and halt of visits. The second stage is the post-revolution period, which was accompanied by Doha’s support and strengthened by the Muslim Brotherhood’s arrival to power. Relations were severed again in 2017.​

Despite the reconciliation agreement reached on Jan. 5, Egyptian parliamentarians and other critics of normalization say Qatar has yet to meet the demands issued by the four countries, including cutting ties to Muslim Brotherhood figures and spreading “fake news” about Egypt on Qatari media channels.

Hurriya Mujahid, professor of African political systems and international relations at Cairo University, put the burden on Qatar, telling Al-Monitor Egyptian-Qatari relations should resume once Qatar no longer opposes Egypt and stops interfering in Egyptian affairs and financing terrorism.

Noteworthy is that the Egyptian state accuses Qatar of supporting extremist groups that are active in Sinai.

Ahmed Ismail, a member of the Defense and National Security Committee in the Egyptian parliament, told Al-Monitor, “Restoring relations is subject to Qatar’s commitment to the Egyptian demands by refraining from spreading false news on its channels, supporting terrorism and interfering in Egyptian affairs.”

Egyptian parliament member Nashwi al-Deeb told Al-Monitor, “Qatar’s interference in Egypt’s affairs and policies is rejected. The issue is not with the Qatari people; it is a dispute with the state administration because Qatar is used as a tool to strike Egypt,” in reference to Turkey.

Deeb added, “The reconciliation must have guarantees from the Qatari regime not to interfere in Egyptian affairs. It must also admit that its positions against Egypt were wrong so that the reconciliation is real and not diplomatic. Qatar must give up harboring terrorist groups on its territory, [and] it should join Cairo in recognizing the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. Otherwise, the reconciliation will be merely formal.”