In an abrupt reversal, the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council has denied voicing words of support for Qatar in its latest war of words with Egypt.
Instead, in his latest statement GCC secretary-general Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani has firmly thrown the Gulf bloc’s support behind Egypt.
Early Thursday, Qatar announced it was recalling its ambassador to Cairo “for consultations” over remarks made by Egypt’s delegate to the Arab League, Tariq Adel.
Qatar had expressed reservations about a joint Arab League communique that welcomed Egypt’s retaliatory air strikes in Libya after ISIL fighters in the North African country executed 21 Egyptian Christians.
Qatar’s position is that there should be consultations between Arab League members before one country launches unilateral military action that could result in civilian casualties in another member state, Saad bin Ali Al Mohannadi, director of Qatar’s Arab affairs department, said in a statement yesterday.
Those sentiments prompted an angry outburst by Adel, who accused Qatar of “constantly taking stances opposing Egypt” and embracing a “supportive stance of terrorism.”
The GCC appeared to quickly back Qatar in what would have been a sharp pivot for an organization whose most powerful members had sought to isolate Doha and pressured it to mend fences with Cairo only a few months earlier.
Initially, GCC secretary-general Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani weighed in to denounce the remarks as “false and baseless.”
He added that such accusations “ignored the sincere efforts of the State of Qatar along with other GCC and Arab countries to combat terrorism and extremism at all levels.”
Late on Thursday, however, Al Zayani denied ever making those remarks. In a statement that made no mention of Qatar, Al Zayani said:
“The GCC countries also support all military actions taken by Egypt against terrorist groups in Libya, following the barbaric act carried out by the Daesh terrorist group.”
‘Freedom to act’
The fluid GCC position notwithstanding, this week’s events show that Qatar has a greater ability to forge an independent policy towards Egypt than in recent months, said David Roberts, a lecturer at King’s College London and author of the upcoming book Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City State.
Roberts added that there are signs suggesting that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who took power following King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud’s death last month, is not as preoccupied with Egyptian relations as his predecessor.
This, combined with the resolution of last year’s GCC dispute and progress toward freeing the Al Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Cairo, gives Qatar much more freedom to act as it wishes, Roberts said.
“It’s quite cost-free to Qatar to withdraw their ambassador,” he said.
Nearly a year ago, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha for several months.
The move was widely interpreted as a show of disapproval for Qatar’s foreign policy, specifically its support for the Muslim Brotherhood – an organization Saudi Arabia and the UAE both view as a threat to their own authority.
That dispute officially came to end in November with the signing of a new accord. In the following weeks, Saudi Arabia’s late leader, King Abdullah, pushed Qatar and Egypt to reconcile their differences.
Roberts added that Egypt has been engaged in the Libyan conflict for months and that it is unlikely the government suddenly discovered a trove of high-value targets. He called the aerial bombings launched as retaliation for ISIL’s executions “a bit of a farce.”
“Egypt had to do something … (but) Qatar said they shouldn’t just bomb things willy-nilly.”
Qatar’s concerns appear to be supported by footage aired by Al Jazeera that purports to show civilian casualties in Libya.
Roberts said that while the flare-up in tensions between Qatar and Egypt set reconciliation efforts between the two countries back, it likely doesn’t shift a significant policy shift.
“Egyptians have never trusted Qatar in recent years … and from Qatar’s perspective, what do they care about relations with Egypt?” he said.
“They only thing they get is a bill to send aid to Egypt.”