With the exception of the 369 days during which the former Egyptian president and senior Muslim Brotherhood member, Mohamed Mursi, held the reins of power in Egypt, relations between Cairo and Doha have in recent years been strained to say the least. This relationship began to deteriorate during the latter years of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency, becoming even worse when Adly Mansour became interim president following Mursi’s ouster in July 2013, and reaching its nadir after President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi was elected almost a year later, with the tensions becoming so inflamed that enmity became the rule and not the exception. Cairo deemed itself in the right, claiming that Doha was seeking to destabilize Egypt through its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had become public enemy no.1, while Doha vehemently denied it was supporting the Islamist group or interfering in Egypt’s internal affairs. Neither country took a single step forward in bridging the gulf that had opened up between them, both were content to put relations on hold, even if the gap became interminable, and resign themselves to the inevitable.
Despite this, Saturday’s meeting between President Sisi and the special envoys of the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, did not come as a surprise. For since the resumption of relations in November between Doha and its Gulf neighbors—brokered once again by King Abdullah—this meeting has very much been on the cards. King Abdullah’s message then was crystal clear: Gulf support for Egypt is a must, and patching up Cairo’s relationship with Doha a priority. Since then, everyone has been on the lookout for the first signs of light piercing the grey clouds hanging between both these capitals.
One must commend the Emir of Qatar for making such a gesture of respect and esteem for the Egyptian president by sending his envoy, as one must commend the country for its level-headed foreign policy seeking to patch up regional and Gulf ties, and for taking this first step in breaking its almost-sacred ties with the Brotherhood. One must also praise President Sisi for his magnanimity, especially given the large segment of the Egyptian population strongly opposed to the resumption of ties with Qatar. He also did not make the matter a personal one, despite all the attacks on him issuing from media outlets belonging to or allied with Doha.
Just one day before this meeting, Qatar’s Emir was in Ankara meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to establish a joint “Supreme Strategic Committee” between both countries. Given Erdoğan’s current enmity toward all that is Egyptian, some may accuse Doha of double standards here, but I don’t see it that way at all. Doha has every right to maintain its own independent foreign policy—so long as this does not harm its fellow Gulf countries or Egypt. And I do not believe that the development of this relationship between Ankara and Doha will negatively affect Qatar’s relationship with its Gulf neighbors. I have no doubt Erdoğan is fuming over the resumption of these ties, whether those between Doha and Cairo or those between it and the Gulf countries; but the Turkish president’s direct provocations against Egypt, and indirect ones against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are another matter entirely, and it is not relevant to discuss them here.
King Abdullah has called on numerous occasions for the media to play a positive role in helping improve relations between different countries, and in calming disputes, giving special attention to the role media outlets associated with both Qatar and Egypt can play in helping heal the rift between both countries. It is natural, especially during crises, that media organizations adopt different tacks on various issues, ones conforming to their editorial policies and differing viewpoints, and these can be debated and differed over depending on where one’s own loyalties lie. However, aggressive, deliberate media campaigns, with their attendant insults and lies, are not easily forgotten. Here, the role played by more serious, sober-minded outlets is ever more important, with their ability to treat political developments—no matter which way they turn—with equanimity and professionalism, eschewing all manner of deception and dishonesty.