Qatar’s top diplomat visits Egypt amid improving ties

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s president met Tuesday with Qatar’s chief diplomat amid improved relations since Egypt and three Gulf nations ended their dispute with the energy-rich country in January.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, meeting in Cairo, agreed on “intensifying joint consultation and coordination” to boost bilateral ties between the two nations, el-Sissi’s office said in a statement.

El-Sissi also received an invitation from Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to visit Doha. It would be the first for the Egyptian leader to the Gulf state since he led the military’s overthrow of an elected Islamist president in 2013 amid mass protests against his divisive one-year rule. El-Sissi was defense minister at the time.

The Qatari chief diplomat also held talks with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry that discussed “the positive development” in ties between the two countries, according to a statement by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.

A January declaration put an end to a diplomatic crisis that began in 2017 with a rift between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on one side and Qatar on the other.

The four countries had jointly boycotted Qatar and hoped an embargo and media blitz would pressure it to end its close relations with Turkey and Iran. Egypt and the UAE view the support by Qatar and Turkey of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood as a security threat. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were primarily concerned about Qatar’s ties with Iran.

The countries accused Qatar of cozying up to Iran and financing extremist groups in the region, though Doha denied the charges. Qatar-based Al-Jazeera was at the center of the dispute. The four nations demanded its closure among other measures, which Qatar rejected.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the ministers discussed taking further measures to promote “the positive atmosphere” in their bilateral ties. It did not elaborate on details.

Shukry said in televised comments Friday that the implementation of the January agreement between the five nations would further accelerate restoring ties between Cairo and Doha.

Tuesday’s statement by the Foreign Ministry said joint committees concluded a new round of talks and would continue discussing lingering issues to fully implement that agreement. It did not elaborate.

The two countries formally began rapprochement earlier this year, “but it was not clear how far or how quickly, that would go, in real terms,” said H.A. Hellyer, scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Cambridge University.

“This latest visit confirms that there is indeed more than a simply signing of letters, as it was. The Egyptians and the Qataris want to move to another stage, which certainly impacts the existing geopolitical arrangements of the region,” he said.

The two diplomats also discussed other regional topics, including a decade-long dispute between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over a massive dam Ethiopia is building on the main tributary of the Nile River, the statement added. Egypt and Sudan deem the Ethiopian dam a major threat to their water security.

The Qatari foreign minister then left to Doha. He had arrived in Cairo late Monday from a trip to Khartoum where he met with Sudanese officials, his first visit to Sudan after an uprising led to the military’s ouster of Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. Al-Bashir, an Islamist, was an ally to Qatar.

The Qatari foreign minister also traveled to Libya earlier this week. He met with the newly appointed transitional government in Tripoli that has been struggling to unite the divided North African country before an election scheduled in December. Egypt and Qatar have been backing opposing sides in war-torn Libya.

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