Egypt says it welcomes Saudi counter-terrorism initiative as Qatar ties thaw
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi - YOUM7 (Archive)

CAIRO: Egypt has welcomed Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz’s announcement of a “Riyadh Supplementary Agreement” aimed at establishing a comprehensive framework to counter regional terrorism threats through unified efforts among Arab and Islamic countries, the presidential office said in a press release on Nov. 19.

As reported by Saudi newspapers on Wednesday, the Saudi Royal House said an agreement was reached on Nov. 16 between the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar in a meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh to end “pending conflicts” for the well-being of the entire Arab and Muslim community. It called on the media to “implement” the decision as well, in what was likely a veiled reference to a rift between Egypt and most of the Gulf monarchies on one side, and Qatar and its state-owned Al Jazeera network on the other.

“A new phase of cooperation between sister nations,” King Abdullah stated after praising the regional importance of Egypt, to which the Egyptian presidency responded by saying “it is fully committed to this sincere call, which constitutes a major step forward in the march towards Arab solidarity.” It went on to call for a “serious and constructive approach to overcome divisions during this critical time.”

The Riyadh summit foreshadowed a decision by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to return their ambassadors to Doha, according to the Saudi Okaz news website on Nov. 16.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE had asked their ambassadors to withdraw last March following Qatar’s alleged violations of established agreements with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) not to interfere in other Arab states’ foreign affairs. Qatar is a vocal and active supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and its criticism of his July 2013 ouster was viewed as interference by Egypt and many Gulf leaders.

The Egyptian reaction towards a possible reconciliation with Qatar so far seems positive. According to several interviews conducted by the state-owned Al-Ahram Wednesday with former officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, diplomats believe Qatar has been fully involved in the decisions probably reached after mutual understanding and agreements between Qatar and Saudi Arabia during the summit.

“Qatar has indeed begun changing its policies towards Egypt in the recent U.N. Human Rights Council, as the Qatari representative’s speech came in favor of Egypt,” Hassan Haridy, a former deputy foreign minister told Al-Ahram.

Going further, Hani Khalaf, also a former deputy foreign minister, told Al-Ahram that Egypt would expect Qatar to fully divest its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, something Qatar seemed eager to do when it decided to deport some MB leaders living there last September.

According to an Egyptian group called the “Brotherhood Without Violence Movement,” Qatar also stopped funding the main MB international organization in April before an aid package worth $56 million was due to the group.

Qatar seems keen to rebuild ties to other Gulf states, according to the latest statement by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, during the opening session of the 43rd round of the Shura Council on Qatar TV on Nov. 11, especially as next month’s GCC summit is set to take place in Doha.

As for the Egypt-Qatar conflict and Al Jazeera media’s negative coverage of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s rise to power, Al Jazeera Mubashir Misr continues to use the phrase “military coup d’état” when reporting news on Morsi’s overthrow.

Also, Al Jazeera journalists remain behind bars in Tora Prison despite global calls for their release and recent hopes following Sisi’s meeting with Arab journalists on Oct. 20. Here, the press discussed the imprisoned journalists’ case and demanded their release.

A decree issued in early November allowed the president to deport foreign convicts or suspects, and despite beliefs that the new law might have resulted from foreign political pressure in favor of the journalists, no other action was taken regarding the matter.

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