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Middle East News
Egypt, Qatar Move to Mend Ties
From the Wall Street Journal of Sat, 20 Dec 2014 17:38:24 EST
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi Zuma Press

RIYADH—Saudi Arabia said Saturday that Qatar and Egypt have accepted an initiative by its king to mend tense relations between the two nations.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi met earlier on Saturday with an envoy of the Emir of Qatar, the first such meeting since he took office last summer. The Saudi royal court chief also attended the meeting.

Saudi Arabia said it supports “opening a new page between the two countries,” according to a statement carried by the official state news agency.

The announcement comes a few weeks after Gulf countries said a rift between Qatar and other states of the Gulf Cooperation Council has ended after months of tensions over Doha’s support of Islamist movements in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East.

Qatar confirmed that it has accepted the agreement and in an official statement said it is “keen on a leading role for Egypt in the Arab and Muslim worlds.”

Gas-rich Qatar was a strong supporter of Mr. Sisi’s predecessor, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted in July 2013 by the military in what Doha-based Al Jazeera news channel described as a “coup.”

That description rankled with Mr. Sisi and his backers, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf.

The disagreement between the two countries centered on Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Cairo has now designated as a terrorist organization. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also list the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and see it as an existential threat to their political systems.

Qatar’s support of the Islamist group was a main cause behind one of the worst crises in the GCC history since it was established in 1981. Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in March. Two days later, Egypt also pulled its ambassador from the Qatari capital.

Last month Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Bahrain agreed to return their ambassadors to Qatar after the government asked senior figures from the Brotherhood to leave the country in September. Egypt has yet to follow suit.

Egypt has relied heavily on billions of dollars in financial aid from wealthy Gulf states to support its troubled economy since a popular uprising in 2011 ended decades of rule under President Hosni Mubarak , with Qatar providing most of that aid after Mr. Morsi was elected in June 2012.

But as relations between Egypt and Qatar deteriorated after Mr. Morsi’s removal, Doha asked Cairo to return the deposits it placed at the Central Bank of Egypt. The country has now repaid $6 billion to Qatar, with $500 million of outstanding debt to be paid in the second half of 2015.

This gap was quickly filled by other oil-rich Gulf countries after Mr. Sisi came to power. Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Kuwait pledged up to $10.6 billion of direct financial aid to Egypt last year.

Egypt said on Saturday it appreciates the Saudi reconciliation efforts and “looks forward to turning the page on past differences” with Qatar in a bid to “achieve the hopes and aspirations of the Arab people.”

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