Qatar in Egypt: Buying Foreign Policy
By: Mohammad Khawly
Published Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Cairo – Qatar’s recent announcement that it plans to invest $18 billion in Egypt following President Mohammed Mursi’s controversial statements on Syria may herald a new era in Egyptian-Qatari relations, observers say.
Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem announced the proposed investments at a joint press conference with Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil on September 6. This new wave of investment comes on the heels of a $2 billion Qatari loan to the Egyptian state, the first installment of which was deposited at the Central Bank of Egypt on August 23.
The announcement came just a week after Mursi made headlines at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran when he announced his full support for the Syrian revolution against what he called an “oppressive regime.”
At the opening session of the council of Arab ministers last Wednesday, Mursi reiterated his call for the regime leadership to step down.
“Now is the time for change,” Mursi said, addressing the Syrian regime. “There is no room for arrogance or presumptuousness. Do not listen to those voices tempting you to stay, for you will not remain for long.”
Many in the region see a link between Egypt’s unyielding stance on Syria and the recent spike in Qatari investments in Egypt. Whether this influx of Gulf money was the goal behind Cairo’s posturing or rather the loan and investments were a result of Mursi’s anti-Syrian position, which has broad support at home, no one can say. At least some factions in Egypt, including the Hazemoun movement linked to former Salafi presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail, view the Syrian uprising through a religious, sectarian lens as a jihad against an “infidel” Alawi army.
The investments involve $8 billion in major projects in Sharq al-Tafria, East Port Said, and another $10 billion will be spent on a gigantic tourism project on the northern coast including a marina for luxury yachts.
The projects are expected to provide job opportunities for thousands of workers, but some worry such projects could become a tool in the hands of the Qatari regime and a means of leverage in any future dispute.
Al-Akhbar spoke to the founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who is familiar with Qatari politics.
In his opinion, Qatar wants Egypt’s support on political issues, particularly when it comes to internal Gulf disputes with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as well as other Arab countries.
Qatar is a small country that needs strong allies, said Ibrahim, but its relationships with its direct neighbors – Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq – are fraught with difficulties. An ally in Egypt would not covet Qatari resources, making it a safe and powerful friend. In addition to increasing its political clout, Qatar also sees Egypt as a ripe investment opportunity.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.