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Doha Is Beating Ankara to Cairo!

Doha Is Beating Ankara to Cairo!

Thursday, 17 June, 2021 - 11:30
Suleiman Jawda
Egyptian Writer & Journalist

A day will come when those concerned with this region will write the history of its developments. They will give some time to the Gulf summit held in AlUla, Saudi Arabia, early this year, certainly not because it is the first Gulf summit of its kind. Indeed, a large number of similar summits had been held since the Gulf Cooperation Council, with its six capitals, came to light in the early 1980s.

The Gulf summit in AlUla seemed as different at the time as it does now, in terms of its outcomes for the Gulf’s internal dynamics and the relationship between several of its capitals and Doha, as well as the ties between Cairo and the Qatari capital, which went about addressing Cairo with political terms that had not been used for a long time and had not been expressed by either of the two capitals in years.

It could easily be asserted that the Qatar Egypt knows today is not the one it had known before the AlUla Summit. Nor is not the Qatar whose ties with four Arab capitals had been severed for more than three years. This wouldn’t be the case if the AlUla Summit had not come at the right time, as though it were the staff of Moses, swallowing everything that had preceded it.

I remember that Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman was in Cairo a few months ago and that he made the visit because a ministerial meeting had been called by the Arab League, and I remember that Sheikh Mohammed was bound to visit because his country is heading the ministerial council at the Arab League in its current session.

That was in early March, and the occasion was the renewal of Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit’s term for another five years. Perhaps in his second term, the man can make up for what he did not have enough time to do during the first, and perhaps present to his bigger nation that which he would like to offer it, amid circumstances in which the larger nation seems to be more desperately of a coherent Arab League that stands against the harassment of the wolves in the region than ever before.

I recall that a private meeting between the Qatari minister and Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister, was held at that time. The meeting was held at Shoukry’s office, and the photo of the two men published in the Egyptian press made them look like rivals whose circumstances had forced them to be in the same place. The appropriate conditions had not been cultivated, nor was the political climate surrounding them suitable or the ground they were standing on stable enough.

If someone wanted to recall the picture now, they would find what had been referred to above in the two ministers’ body language, and they would feel it before finding it. If they tried looking at the two men’s faces and inspecting their visible facial expressions, the person would feel that they are not expressions usually seen on the faces of officials standing before the camera. Usually, an official’s grin stretches from ear to ear... any official... once the camera begins filming, at the very least there is a smile on their face, their facial muscles move on their own, even when their heart is frowning, and even when on the inside, they feel neither joy nor pleasure.

Overall, the ministers’ faces were devoid of life and feelings, but because the two men are diplomats in the first place, and since diplomatic protocol is stringent and imposes its rules - with every move conveying a message in the world of diplomacy and every look and gesture having a meaning behind it. For diplomats normally do not show others anything but exactly what they intend to show them, nothing more and nothing less, otherwise expressing general positions without touch-ups and additions. So, one can imagine the expectations of the two diplomats in our case of the two foreign ministers from Cairo and Doha, who were meeting for the first time in a while - a long period characterized by the tensions we are familiar with between the two capitals.

This was three months ago, and the meeting between the pair seemed as though it had been held in preparation for the post-AlUla Summit phase, for if you were to put that image side by side with that of their meeting this week in Doha, the positive developments to the relationship between the two countries would become apparent to you. Those changes found their way to the more recent visit’s picture and were reflected in it, with warmth characterizing the meeting in which spontaneous smiles replaced the gloom of the preceding meeting.

As it returns, Qatar is speaking differently about Egypt, talking about it as an older Arab sister, putting things back on the right track. It does this hoping to overcome what happened and head toward the future with its older Arab sister: A phase based on three pillars agreed upon by the two sides.

The first is communication between the two capitals, the second is working to enhance stability as a goal in the region, and the third is genuine commitment to non-interference in one another’s internal affairs.

When Shoukry, in his interview with Al Jazeera, said that “the two country’s governments have the political will to turn the page on the past,” the phrase spoke to the steps that were genuinely taken to begin the process. And they need to be followed up on the relationship’s long path.

Sheikh Mohammed’s visit to Cairo last month, carrying an invitation to President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi from Qatari Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad to visit Qatar at the soonest possible date, was among those steps, as is that which Sheikh Tamim received Shoukry two days ago, when he was handed an identical invitation to visit Cairo.

At the beginning of the month, Sheikh Ahmed bin Nasser, Qatar’s Ambassador to Moscow, spoke at length to the Russian news agency Sputnik, giving statements to the effect that his country is looking forward to Sisi’s visit, that it hopes the visit is made in the coming days, and that it knows, as it awaits the presidential visit, that Egypt has special importance for Qatar and for the Arab world in general.

There is no way that the minister would have carried an invitation to visit Cairo or for the ambassador to speak about the visit in this celebratory fashion before the meeting is held, without this expressing a new orientation in Qatari politics and unless this orientation wants ties to go to the place different to that which they had been in before the summit in AlUla.

In parallel with this Qatari-Egyptian rapprochement, which has leaped to the level of presidents and princes in less than two months, a similar rapprochement between Ankara and Cairo has been underway. Although Turkey was the one to initiate the first step, requesting rapprochement, the speed on the two parallel tracks differs, whereby the path to reconciliation between Cairo and Doha has reached its current, and the second slowed down and stopped at the borders of the meeting just below that of foreign ministers.

It is easy to discover the reason for this, and its backdrop is right in front of us. Turkey’s sweet talk about its relationship with Egypt has been not buttressed by steps that put its words into action. Indeed, the opposite might happen, as we have noticed that the Turkish government is talking about an imminent exchange of ambassadors between the two capitals, while its behavior, like its actions in Libya, for example, on the other, leaves the process of exchanging of ambassadors standing in its place and stumbling on its path.

The Turkey question is complicated by nature and filled with details, but the parallel path between Qatar and Egypt can progress further in the near future if the three pillars on which the two sides agreed to build upon are safeguarded and respected.

The remaining lessons to be learned by the three capitals in all cases is that the media should not be utilized to achieve objectives different to those declared and that political Islam can eat the hand that feeds it once it finds nothing in it.

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