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Qatar-Egypt reconciliation overtures ripple through region Open in fullscreen

Abubakr al-Shamahi

Qatar-Egypt reconciliation overtures ripple through region

Imprisoned al-Jazeera journalists Peter Greste (L), Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (C) and Baher Mohamed

Date of publication: 23 December, 2014

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Muslim Brotherhood feels the pressure, while al-Jazeera's decision to suspend the operations of its Egyptian channel seen as first consequence of GCC efforts to reconcile the two countries.
With the announcement on Monday that al-Jazeera was suspending Mubasher Misr, the Qatari broadcaster's Egypt-dedicated channel, observers suggest the effect of Qatari-Egyptian rapprochement is already being felt.

Egyptian authorities had accused the channel of acting as a mouthpiece for Egypt's now banned Muslim Brotherhood organisation, something the channel has always denied.

Egypt also arrested three al-Jazeera journalists on charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation. The three
     We respect Qatar and its position during the coup.

- Muhammad Soudan
deny all charges, but have spent almost a year in jail.

The move to suspend Mubasher Misr's operations came hot on the heels of Saturday's meeting between Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdel Rahman al-Thani, a special envoy of Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Cairo.

That meeting in turn came after efforts by Qatar's Gulf Cooperation Council partners, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to end a rift that started over differences in their reactions to the coup that brought Sisi to power in 2013.

Qatar had been a strong backer of the ousted president, Mohammad Morsi, Egypt's first elected leader and a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia and the UAE backed Sisi and even outlawed the Brotherhood, designating the movement a terrorist organisation, and objecting to Qatar's backing for the group to the extent that the countries pulled their envoys from Doha in March.

But at a GCC meeting in Doha earlier this month, the Gulf countries appeared to bury the hatchet and Qatar signed on to a statement recognising the leadership of Egypt. 
 
Where does that leave the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood?

After Sisi's coup against Morsi in July 2013, Qatar gave refuge to fleeing Muslim Brotherhood members. At the same time, Qatar said that it would always "respect the choices of the Egyptian people".

Muhammed Soudan, a senior member of the Brotherhood currently living in exile in the United Kingdom, said he thought it likely that Qatar's policy towards Egypt was changing in light of the latest meetings and Qatar's pledge to give Egypt its "full support".

"We respect Qatar and its position during the coup... What is currently happening is a result of the pressure being applied on them from the Americans and the Gulf states," Soudan said.

"We understand their situation, and we thank them for standing with us."

Soudan brushed off suggestions that this left the movement in a precarious situation. The Brotherhood had always faced "trials", he told al-Araby al-Jadeed and the organisation "relied on God alone".

Meeting elsewhere

Egyptian exiles in Qatar also avoided criticising their hosts.

Speaking to the Turkish Anadolu news agency, Ehab Shiba, the head of the Egyptian Asala Party, said that Qatar managed its foreign affairs "in a professional manner".

"[Qatar] had no dispute with Egypt. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the one who instigated the dispute, because Qatar saw al-Sisi's ouster of Egypt's legitimate president, Muhammed Morsi, as a coup," Shiha said.

Brotherhood members residing in Qatar have said that they will continue to oppose Sisi.

"We've made our decision, which is to continue the [Egyptian] revolution until we win," said Yehia Hamed, who served as a minister during Morsi's time in office, and is a senior Brotherhood member.

A Muslim Brotherhood source in Qatar speaking on condition of anonymity, however, told Anadolu that the organisation's leaders in Qatar had agreed with authorities that they would not partake in open political activities while in the country. Several Brotherhood leaders were asked to leave Qatar in September.

"Since the deportation of Muslim Brotherhood leaders in September, we agreed with the Qatari state that we would not hold organisational meetings or opposition conferences, to which we agreed out of respect for Qatar," the source said.

Those meetings are now being held outside Qatar. On Saturday, Turkey hosted a meeting of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council, a group of 44 former Egyptian parliamentarians who labelled the Istanbul meeting their first "official session" since Morsi's deposition.

Analysts, meanwhile, said it was all but inevitable that international and regional pressure on Qatar, in part as a result of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, would eventually have an effect.

"Given the context of the changing geopolitical realities in the Arab world, it seemed inevitable that Doha would crack," said H.A. Hellyer, nonresident fellow at the Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

"Al-Jazeera’s closing of the Mubasher Misr station is quite significant," he said saying the station had been "regularly pilloried" for being partisan.

"The removal of the station shows that this was a problem, but it also brings into question al-Jazeera’s independence, as the move to close the station will be viewed as an order from above."  

- With extra reporting by AFP

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