Egypt crisis: Fall of Morsi challenges Qatar's new emir

05.07.2013 16:52

The abrupt fall of the Egyptian
President Mohammed Morsi has left
the tiny Gulf state of Qatar with a
very big headache barely a week after
a young and inexperienced Emir has
taken charge.
The Qatari support for Islamists
throughout the Middle East as a strategy
to establish itself as a regional
powerbroker now looks increasingly
In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad is
slowly but surely gaining the upper hand
on rebel forces that have had substantial
backing from Qatar but it is Egypt where
the young Emir may be left holding onto
a policy that has cost the Qataris billions
while backing the Morsi government.
The strategy of support for Mr Morsi and
the Muslim Brotherhood looked a
shrewd one just a year ago. Egypt had
emerged from its Arab spring revolution
to hold its first fair and open presidential
election. Mr Morsi won a slight majority.
Key to his election victory was the
promise to revitalise Egypt's moribund
economy. The Qataris positioned
themselves to prime the pump with
massive transfers of cash, some $10
billion (£6.5bn) since Mr Morsi came to
But this was not a charitable giveaway. It
was in the nature of an investment. A
Qatari economist told the BBC: "We
couldn't stand by and let Egypt
collapse", but the billions came with an
expectation - "I'll give you the money,
show me the outcome," he said.
The Qataris had already secured a
lucrative deal to sell their gas to the
Egyptians and they were proposing to
heavily invest in the redevelopment of
the Suez Canal.
The thinking was that with a functioning
economy and a grateful nation, Qatar
would be in pole position to capitalise on
a resurgent Egypt.
But as Mr Morsi stumbled from one
failure to another, the promised
economic recovery never got off the
On Wednesday that cost Mr Morsi his job
and left the Qataris busy attempting
damage control. Al Jazeera, based in the
Qatari capital, Doha, and funded heavily
by the royal family, carried a statement
from what it called a foreign ministry
source that said in part "Qatar will
remain a supporter of brotherly Egypt".
And the new Emir Tamim sent best wishes
to the interim Egyptian President Adly
Michael Stephens, a Gulf analyst with
Royal United Services Institute (Rusi)
Doha agrees that damage limitation is the
order of the day for Qatar.
"The Qataris got into bed with one side
and now that side is out," he said.
Mr Stephens said that a senior Qatari
businessman had told him "it's like we've
dumped our girlfriend", but Mr Stephens
said it is not quite as simple as that.
"The Muslim Brotherhood is out for now
but in a fair and free election they could
be voted back in."
Policy rethink
Even so, Sheikh Tamim and his advisors
will be scrambling to establish a new
position on Egypt, one that for the time
being at least extricates them from their
close relationship with the Muslim
Brotherhood while striving to protect the
billions they have already invested.
And his task is made all the more
difficult with the departure of the long-
serving Prime Minister and Foreign
Minister Hamad bin Jassim al Thani.
He was seen as the architect of an
assertive Middle East foreign policy that
saw Qatar backing Islamist rebels in
Libya and securing American agreement
to arm Syrian rebels, Islamist and non-
Islamist alike (though the suspicion was
that the Qataris were directing weapons
to hardcore Islamist factions like the al-
Nusra front rather than to secular
And of course the unwavering support -
until the events of Wednesday - for
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
The prime minister left his twin posts at
the same time that Sheikh Tamim took
over. HBJ as he is known has been
replaced as foreign minister by Khalid al-
Mr Atiyya will need all of his reputedly
formidable intellect in assisting the new
Emir to devise a foreign policy shorn of
an Islamist agenda.
It was the aggressive pursuit of that
agenda that annoyed Qatar's Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC) allies,
neighbouring Saudi Arabia being the
most important of those, but certainly
the United Arab Emirates, which is in the
midst of a harsh crackdown on a Muslim
Brotherhood associated religious society
al-Islah, may be forgiven for a bit of a
gloat at the expense of the Qataris.
And both those countries will be looking
to advance their position in Egypt at
Qatar's expense.