Qatar and Egypt restored their diplomatic ties in January, ending a dispute that lasted more than three years.
A hashtag that roughly translated to “Qatar is dirty” topped the trending list in Egypt on Saturday, June 5, on the fourth anniversary of the 2017 blockade.
Over one thousand social media users used the hashtag to spread anti-Qatar sentiment, with some tweeting impudent animated pictures of official Qatari figures and representatives.
“The propaganda shows an unusual obsession with Sheikha Mozza, Turkey, Iran, and lurid cartoons. Clearly maturity and sophistication levels are still lacking,” Marc Owen Jones, Assistant Professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, tweeted.
The hashtag was also used to spread fake news about Qatar, including false fraud and terrorism claims.
“The most common narrative seemed to be criticising Qatar for its relations with Turkey and Iran, and generally, it is the UAE who seem to have the biggest problems with Qatar’s relationship with those countries – although there is no smoking gun,” Jones told Doha News.
The hashtag was mentioned over 1200 times in less than two days, according to experts. Mentionlytics, a social media monitoring platform, revealed through data that the hashtag gained over 100 thousand engagements on Twitter.
“It’s hard to know who is behind it, but we know historically a lot of the disinformation campaigns have been run by digital marketing companies contracted by a client,” Jones added.
Responding to the tweet by Jones, Dr Andreas Krieg, an assistant professor at the School of Security Studies at King’s College London and researcher of Middle East and North African Studies suggested it may be linked to an Emirati troll farm.
“Let’s not forget that the UAE‘s Tahnoons office is running a range of troll farms in Egypt who would want to curb the enthusiasm of Qatar Egypt cooperation as of late,” Dr Krieg tweeted.
Since 2017, Qatar has found itself at the forefront of a major cyber warfare tactic and has since faced millions of online bots deployed as a coordinated campaign to manipulate social discourse.
The fairly recent government tactic helps in disseminating propaganda en masse, often attacking dissidents and opponents and encouraging authentic users to imitate similar attitudes against the target.
While it remains unclear who is behind the latest attack, it follows fairly positive moves to reconcile between Qatar and Egypt.
Amending diplomatic ties
Last month, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani invited Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to visit Doha. This would be the Egyptian president’s first visit to the Gulf state since the blockade was imposed in 2017, though the date yet to be announced.
The invitation was sent via Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani during his visit to Cairo in May. In the letter, Qatar’s Amir expressed Doha’s keenness to enhance discussions between the two countries to better develop bilateral relations.
Qatar’s FM thanked Egypt for its role in protecting Arab national security as well as its efforts and endeavours to establish security, stability and development at the regional level.
The meeting between Sheikh Mohammed and Sisi came shortly after a similar meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
According to Al Jazeera, the meeting resulted in an Egyptian-Qatari agreement to develop relations between the two states as well as ways to advance the mechanisms of Arab action in light of current regional challenges.
Both Doha and Cairo have been committed to their parts of the Al-Ula Declaration, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry assured, noting “positive indicators” in the path to reconciliation.
“We look forward to the full implementation of the Al-Ula accord, which will open the way for more normal relations between Egypt and Qatar. We have ensured that the people of both countries are not affected by any tension in relations..all indications so far are positive and in the interest of both countries,” Shoukry told MBC Masr’s show ‘Al Hekaya’.
Most recently, relations between Doha and Cairo were put to the test after both nations managed to work together to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, where an 11-day Israeli bombardment on the besieged Strip killed more than 200, including at least 66 children.
Qatar and Egypt signed the Al-Ula Accord on January 5th this year at the 41st GCC Summit, ending a three-year long dispute between the two countries as well as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.
Egypt was part of a quartet that imposed a full land, air and sea blockade on Qatar and severed all diplomatic ties with the country in 2017, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism. Qatar has vehemently denied those accusations.
Updates regarding the official re-opening of the embassy in Qatar have yet to be announced.