Qatar has pledged to expel exiled leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as one of the conditions of an agreement forced on the wealthy Gulf state by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other neighbours.
In a move that reflects shifting political alignments in a deeply divided Middle East, seven senior Brotherhood figures were ordered at the weekend to leave Doha, which is seen by the Egyptian government and its conservative Gulf backers as a centre of subversive Islamist activity. They include its acting leader, Mahmoud Hussein, and two other senior colleagues.
Qatar also agreed to stop attacking Egypt in al-Jazeera broadcasts. The TV network is based in Doha and is seen across the region as a reflecting the emirate’s policies and preferences.
The conditions were part of an agreement signed in Riyadh in November 2013 and designed to patch up an angry quarrel in which Qatar was blamed for backing the Brotherhood in Egypt and Islamist groups from the neighbouring UAE to Libya. It has never been made public, and until recently had not been implemented.
Fears about the threat from Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq and Syria helped to convince Qatar to back down, diplomats said.
Turkish media reported that the country’s president, Recep Tayep Erdoğan, had extended a welcome to the exiled leaders. Amr Darrag, the Brotherhoods’s foreign relations officer, has already arrived in Turkey, according to al-Jazeera Turk. Gamal Abdul Sattar, the former deputy head of Egypt’s religious affairs directorate, was planning to move to Istanbul, it said.
For the last four years Qatar and Turkey have been the chief backers of the Islamist movements that flourished during the Arab spring uprisings only to experience crushing defeat in Egypt when the Brotherhood’s democratically-elected president Mohammed Morsi was overthrown by the army. Morsi’s fall was openly supported by the other Gulf states and implicitly backed by the west. Under his successor, Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, hundreds of Brotherhood supporters have been killed or imprisoned and the group has been outlawed as a terrorist organisation.
Palestinian sources denied reports on Tuesday that the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, had also been asked to leave Doha. Qatar has played an important role backing the group, which is linked to but distinct from the Muslim Brotherhood. Israel has attacked Qatar in recent weeks for its support for Hamas. Doha has also been under fire for alleged links with Isis, which it has flatly denied. Like Saudi Arabia, it backed Islamist groups in Syria, some of which morphed over time into Isis.
This is what I was talking about earlier. The support for ISIS didn’t come from the Saudi government as much as it was private initiatives, but the Qatari’s support was more government-based. Now they have to deal with a very angry Saudi Arabia that views Qatar as a major problem, and to make up with them, they allowed an overt lessening of support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas with the knowledge that their friends in Turkey would take them in.