Egypt on Thursday became the fourth Arab state in two days to pull its ambassador from Qatar over its support for Islamists around the region, including the deposed Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, and his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood.
After the withdrawal of envoys from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Egypt’s statement formalizes a breach between Cairo and Doha that began shortly after the military ouster of Mr. Morsi last summer. Its move adds to Qatar’s sudden isolation in the region and at the same time reinforces the alliance binding Egypt’s new military-backed government to the other oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchies. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were deeply apprehensive about the potential influence on their own populations of either democratic or Islamist leadership in Cairo. Since the Egyptian military removed Mr. Morsi, the conservative gulf states have donated billions of dollars to help support the new government, just as Qatar had spent heavily to try to prop up the previous Islamist one. Egyptian state news media declared Thursday that most of the Arab world had now repudiated Qatar, asserting that Doha must now decide whether it would stand on the side of “Arab solidarity” or against it. Calling the withdrawal of the five envoys a beginning attempt “to correct the path of the Qatari government,” the Egyptian government asserted that “Qatar’s problem is not with us but with the majority of the Arab countries,” state media reported. Alluding to its continuing struggle to suppress the now-outlawed Islamist opposition — characterized by the new government as terrorists — Egypt said Qatar must now choose between supporting Egypt against “the grave challenges it is facing,” or “stand on the other side and bear the consequences. ”The contest for power in Cairo was already at the heart of the split between Qatar and the other Persian Gulf states. While the other gulf monarchies cheered the military takeover, Qatar continued to use its satellite news channel Al Jazeera to support the Brotherhood in Egypt and allied Islamists around the region. Along with London and Istanbul, Doha has become a hub for Brotherhood figures in exile.
On Wednesday, Qatar responded to the withdrawal of the other gulf state ambassadors by accusing their monarchies of backing a reactionary dictatorship in Egypt against the wishes of their citizens. Nasser bin Hamad M. al-Khalifa, a former Qatari ambassador to Washington, said in an interview with Al Jazeera’s English-language network that the other gulf states were lashing out over Qatar’s failure to back Egypt’s new military leader, Field Marshal Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi. “The whole issue is really about Sisi,” Mr. Khalifa said. “These countries are supporting a coup d’état” and “they want Qatar to support such a policy” but “we will never support another regime that kills its own people.”Noting that Egypt’s ambassador to Qatar had been at home in Cairo since February, Egypt’s cabinet said Thursday that he would not be returning and that “the decision to keep him is a political and sovereign decision,” the state newspaper reported.