When the Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim Ben Hamad decided finally to sign the last agreement, proposed by Kuwait, to settle his country’s dispute with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, an unusual movement by security forces in certain parts of Doha was detected soon after the deal was announced. At that point in time, no one knew for certain the reason for the moves.
What was Sheikh Tamim worried about? According to some Gulf analysts, ties between some members of the ruling family and the Muslim Brotherhood were the source of anguish. Others believe that the long presence of the MBs and their followers in Qatar, particularly among Egyptian migrant workers living there, was the reason. Some unconfirmed reports referred to a de facto house arrest of some royal figures and even intense surveillance of a few former military officers.
The deal with Qatar includes silencing the MB members from other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries who fled their homelands and chose to live in Doha. It additionally included kicking out more Egyptian MBs and stopping the naturalization of Bahraini refugees in Qatar. But one particularly important element of the agreement focused on the Al Jazeera TV channel directed to broadcasting to Egypt (Misr Mubasher).
Just 24 hours the deal was signed, Misr Mubasher started calling Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al Sissi “the legitimate and elected president of Egypt.” Silencing the Qatar-based MBs and the TV channel will ease the pains in Cairo a bit. But obviously, it is not sufficient to substantially reduce the troubles in Egypt altogether.
Almost a year ago, Qatar negotiated a preliminary understanding with the government of Sudan to host a number of the exiled MBs if the moment comes that it has to ask them to leave Qatari soil. Khartoum accepted the idea in principle. Now, the “Khartoum option” has been revived as there are renewed contacts about moving some of the MB leaders to the Sudanese capital.
Cairo responded positively to the call of the Saudi King to bless the inter-GCC deal. Some sources in the Egyptian capital hinted about a clause in the agreement that the Egyptian authorities should be restrained in cracking down on MBs members who return to Egypt and do not engage in illegal activities. There were other unconfirmed speculations about a demand that Cairo stop any media attacks against Doha.
Qatar was given three months to implement the detailed protocol signed in Riyadh. While there is no doubt that the central issue was Doha’s ties to the MBs, there were some signals that there will be a push to reconcile relations between the Al Sissi government and the MBs in the coming months. The timing of the so called “Islamic Revolution” in Egypt, to start the 28th of November, is thought to be an attempt by the more radical wing of the Islamists—including some imprisoned leaders of the MBs—to jeopardize the proposal. Doha’s streets in popular areas witnessed some paint writings on the wall declaring support for the MBs. No condemnation of the Qatari authorities were detected however.
It seems that some circles in Cairo do not want to see such a reconciliation deal either. Just few hours after the news of the GCC deal with Qatar was announced, one of the relatively moderate voices of the MBs, Dr. Ali Muhammad Beshr, was suddenly arrested. Beshr had announced, a few days before his arrest, that he and others are working on a deal with the government. Leaks indicated that authorities put several demands-among them to change the name of the MBs and to dissolve its political parties. Egyptian sources discredited these allegations.
It will now be left to other leaders like Helmi Al Jazar to take the baton. Al Jazar is not known to have any particular relationship with Qatar. But as long as the “real” leadership of the organization, now behind bars, remains reluctant to offer concessions, they will continue to prevent any reconciliation under the impression that it is only a matter of time before Al Sissi falls.