CAIRO: Egyptian and Qatari intelligence officials met in Cairo to discuss a possible reconciliation as part of Saudi efforts to broker an end to the 18-month standoff over Doha’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, security sources said.
They said Qatar’s intelligence chief, Ahmed Nasser Bin Jassim al-Thani, discussed plans for a meeting between the Egyptian and Qatari heads of state in Riyadh next month.
Gulf Arab countries agreed in November to end a long-running dispute with Qatar over its promotion of “Arab Spring” revolts.
Saudi Arabia, which has showered Egypt’s government with billions of dollars in aid over the past year-and-a-half, has pushed for a similar rapprochement between Qatar and Egypt.
Qatar was a backer of elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ties between the two countries deteriorated after then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew Mursi last year and cracked down on the Brotherhood.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE list the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation and consider it a threat to their ruling systems. To Egypt’s irritation, Qatar has sheltered exiled Brotherhood leaders.
Like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, Egypt withdrew its ambassador to Qatar this year. While the others agreed to normalize ties under the November deal, Cairo has yet to follow.
Evidence has mounted in recent days that Saudi mediation could reach fruition.
On Saturday, Sisi – now president – met a special envoy of Qatar’s emir.
The was followed by an announcement on Monday that Qatari-owned Al Jazeera television – which denies Egypt’s charges of being a Brotherhood mouthpiece – had suspended broadcast of its Egypt-focused channel.
The suspension and diplomatic flurry has raised expectations that Egypt might free three Al Jazeera journalists jailed on charges of spreading lies to support a “terrorist organization”, a reference to the Brotherhood.
It was unclear if the journalists’ case was discussed in the Qatari intelligence chief’s talks with Egyptian officials, which took place on Tuesday.
But Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday the case of Australian Peter Greste was “under consideration” by high levels of the Egyptian government and she was hopeful of his release by the end of the year.
Sisi has been reluctant to interfere in judicial cases but suggested last month he might pardon Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed.
The sources said Qatar’s intelligence chief also met senior Egyptian foreign ministry officials. A ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.