Qatar withdrew its ambassador to Egypt on Thursday, angered by an official’s accusations that the Gulf country aids terrorists in the region.
Tensions between the two nations have been severely strained since former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in 2013, but their spat escalated even further after Egypt’s remarks.
The accusations flew after the 22 member states of the Arab League convened in Cairo on Wednesday to hold an urgent meeting on the Libyan crisis. The pan-Arab organization issued a statement after the meeting saying it “understands” Egypt’s airstrikes on Islamic State (IS) strongholds in Libya. Egypt launched the operation in the early hours of Monday in retaliation against the beheading of 21 Coptic Egyptians kidnapped by IS forces.
However, the representatives from Qatar struck a different note, saying they had reservations about the military intervention.
Tarek Adl, Egypt’s Arab League representative, heatedly responded by accusing the country of aiding terrorism, and rupturing the Arab consensus on the situation in Libya.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry released an indignant statement condemning Egypt’s remarks. The Qatari government should not be held accountable for “the failure of the Egyptian government” to contain terrorist acts, the statement said, further fueling the diplomatic imbroglio between the two states.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) came to Qatar’s defense on Thursday, releasing a statement decrying Adl’s remarks as “false accusations that have no connection to truth.”
Egypt’s accusations overlook Qatar’s efforts to combat extremism and terrorism under the GCC’s umbrella, Abdellatif bin Rashid al-Zayani — the GCC’s secretary general, hailing from Bahrain — said in the statement.
“These remarks do not help to reinforce inter-Arab solidarity at a time when our Arab countries face tremendous challenges to their security, sovereignty and stability,” he added.
Furthermore, the resolution presented by the Arab states to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) did not support Egypt’s call for a resolution to back military intervention in Libya, the statement pointed out. Thus, Egypt was forced to lower its expectations, and merely demand the cancelation of the arms embargo on the Libyan government.
In a meeting with the UNSC on Wednesday, Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry proposed a three-point plan: Lift the embargo on arms sales to Libya, so that the government can confront terrorism; impose a naval blockade on arms in areas outside the control of Libya’s elected authorities; and assist the Libyan state by coordinating with its government against terrorists when it seeks approval or aid in such actions.
Moataz Salama, a Gulf affairs analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Mada Masr that the GCC statement doesn’t necessarily reflect a political shift against Egyptian policies among the Gulf states — specifically Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“It is necessary for the GCC to release such a statement — it’s an important protocol. It was released in the name of the GCC as an organization,” Salama explained. “It is important to keep the internal structure of the GCC.”
The Arab states’ position on military intervention in Libya is directly connected to the international community’s proposal for a political solution during the UNSC meeting, Salama added.
“The Arab states know for sure that the international community is not going to support direct military intervention in Libya. That’s why [the Arab League] said it understood Egypt’s airstrikes. I believe that the Gulf countries, especially Saudi and the UAE, support Egypt’s position,” he asserted.
Bernardino Leon, the UN envoy to Libya, said Wednesday he was hopeful that a political deal could be reached soon to set up a unity government and end the turmoil engulfing the country, Reuters reported.
“I am hopeful that a political agreement can be reached soon. The differences between the parties are not insurmountable,” Leon told the UN Security Council.
While Egypt wants a unified plan to combat terrorism in the region, the United States and Europe have adopted a dual stance, Salama explained.
“This is the source of contention,” he continued. “The US and Europe support direct intervention in Iraq and Syria, and call for a political resolution in Libya. Egypt calls for a unified stance against the IS everywhere.”