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Getting closer to Qatar!

Published on 11 January 2013, by M. Tomazy.
This piece from Al-Ahram weekly on new relation between the Muslim brotherhood (MB)'s government in Egypt and al-Thani ruling tribe.
The Sheikh (Left) and the Cleric (Right) 
Qatari Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassim announced on Tuesday that his country would provide a further massive loan to Egypt’s Central Bank to help defuse the country’s acute foreign currency problem in a statement made following a meeting in Cairo between Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil and Bin Jassim.
The meeting was part of Bin Jassim’s visit to Cairo that also includes a meeting with President Mohamed Morsi, the seventh between Morsi and top Qatari officials.
In a press conference held at the office of the prime minister, Bin Jassim all but denied reports of a direct link, some sources suggest condition, between the new Qatari loan and a plan to launch Qatari investments in the Suez Canal, despite concerns in many quarters, including the military and intelligence, over the involvement of a foreign investor in an area of direct national security interest.
“When we reach out to a leading regional state like Egypt, we do so with an eye on helping Egypt out. We don’t pay much attention to the political incitement that some are trying to ignite,” Bin Jassim said.
Egyptian officials have said that Cairo is keen to preserve its strategic national interests, but they have fallen short of denying any potential large Qatari investment in an already existing scheme to develop the Suez Canal.
Officials told Al-Ahram Weekly that Qatari companies and investors were eyeing several investment projects in Egypt and not just in the Suez Canal area. “The projects are there, and enticing foreign investors is always a possibility, but it is not like what is being said in some papers and TV channels that Egypt is going to sell the Suez Canal to the Qataris,” said a source at the prime minister’s office.
The talks with Bin Jassim covered avenues for potential economic cooperation between the two countries, and Bin Jassim will be leaving Cairo with confirmations at the highest political levels — he is also meeting with leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo — that many of the projects Qatar is interested in will soon be agreed.
Other gains that Bin Jassim is taking home in return for the financial rescue of the second loan in less than 12 months include Egyptian approval of Qatari nominees on behalf of the Arab group in several international and regional forums.
Egypt has also agreed to a long-standing Qatari demand for the rotation of the job of Arab League secretary-general, which has traditionally been allocated to the country hosting the headquarters of the organisation, in other words Egypt.
Bin Jassim also gained Egyptian approval of a new wave of “technical support” for the Syrian protesters combating the rule of President Bashar Al-Assad.
According to informed diplomats, Bin Jassim has made Qatar the country that kept Egypt from falling apart.
“It is an open secret that we are in a desperate financial state and that even if we get the loan from the International Monetary Fund [of close to $5 billion], we will still be in need of foreign currency. Qatar is the country that has kept Egypt from literally going bankrupt — at least for now,” admitted an Egyptian diplomat who asked for his name to be withheld.
“This is a major political victory for Qatar, and it is much more precious than any of the money they have given us.”
Qatar has so far made two deposits at the Central Bank of Egypt. The first was of $2 billion and was announced by the emir of Qatar upon the inauguration of President Morsi last July. The loan was paid in four instalments. The second, made this week, was also of $2 billion.
According to political scientist Hassan Nafaa, the Qatari political victory is not just about having bailed out Egypt, or for that matter turning from the Arab Gulf enemy of Egypt under the rule of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak to the Arab Gulf saviour under Morsi.
“In fact it is a victory against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with which Qatar is always in a state of competition over regional influence, and it is a message to non-Arab Qatari foreign policy associates, including the US, Israel and Iran, that when it comes to Egypt it is Qatar that has influence,” Nafaa said.
Nafaa said that the new high profile of Egyptian-Qatari relations was part of the redesign of the Egyptian posture in the Gulf area. “Before, Egypt used to decide its foreign policy choices with an eye on what would appeal to Saudi Arabia, and this was a good part of the unduly tense relations with Iran,” he said.
As the Weekly went to press, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also expected in Cairo for talks with top Egyptian officials. The Salehi visit comes against the backdrop of tense relations between Egypt and the United Arab Emirates over the arrest of 11 Egyptian expatriates in the Arab Gulf state on national security charges.
It also comes despite the Saudi decline of an Egyptian suggestion, made during a visit by Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr to Riyadh earlier in the week, for the convocation of a four-country group that would bring together Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to consult on the crisis in Syria.
Saudi Arabia has only attended one meeting at ministerial level of this diplomatic mechanism proposed by Morsi last summer. “The Saudis are not keen to join this mechanism, or any other forum that brings in the Iranians to discuss Syria, not just due to the traditional bad relations between Riyadh and Tehran as a result of the Sunni-Shia tug-of-war in the Gulf, but also because they say that Iran is part of the problem rather than part of the solution to the situation in Syria,” said one Egyptian diplomat.
Iran has been opposed to any diplomatic initiative that involved the termination of the rule of president Al-Assad, and it has insisted that any deal in Syria should be negotiated and subject to the agreement of the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime.
For its part, Egypt has opened up somewhat to Iran with what was qualified in the Iranian press as a “historic visit” by Morsi to Tehran where he took part in the Non-Aligned Summit late last August.
Beyond this, Cairo has been insisting that it is sticking to the “red lines of Gulf security,” and it has declined to expand trade and tourism relations with Iran. That said, Egyptian officials say there is a sense of dismay in Cairo that despite the continued commitment that Morsi has made to the “traditional foreign policy guidelines” of siding with the Saudi point of view, Saudi Arabia has not come to the economic rescue of Egypt.
“To the contrary, Saudi Arabia has declined repeated appeals from Morsi himself to consider economic aid and succumbed to the American wish to make any aid dependent on the finalisation of the deal over the IMF loan,” said one official, adding that “today, it does not seem that the Saudis will reach out to us anyway, even when we sign the IMF loan deal.”
Given that the UAE, and for that matter Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, are following the Saudi example, either by association or due to other concerns over Egypt’s foreign or domestic policy, Egypt has decided it would not be against its interests to open up to the Iranians, at least with an eye on making a breakthrough on the Syrian front.
According to Nafaa, Egypt should not hesitate to open up to Iran. “There should be no contradiction between opening up to Iran and keeping good relations with the rest of the Gulf. Over-linking the two matters was a policy of ousted former president Mubarak, and it was a policy of exaggerated association with the Saudi agenda rather than anything else.”
Nafaa said it would be “very useful for Egypt to talk to Iran on Syria. Syria is going down a very risky road, and if no political solution is concluded this neighbouring country could fall into disarray, which runs counter to basic national security interests.”
According to Nafaa, the invigorated ties with Qatar could help secure the necessary US consent to a possible improvement in Egyptian-Iranian relations.
The US repeatedly vetoed a full rapprochement between Egypt and Iran during the rule of Mubarak, Egyptian diplomats say. Today, they add, this veto has not been removed, and Egypt is not yet in the business of moving towards a full normalisation of relations with Iran.
“We are just talking to the Iranians, and this should not be blown out of proportion,” said one Egyptian diplomat, adding that as long as Egypt refrains from full normalisation of relations with Iran it would be premature to suggest that Cairo is redesigning its foreign policy parameters on the Gulf.
“We are just repositioning due to obvious economic concerns and also due to the preference of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood for getting closer to Qatar.”