Analysts believe the visit is a significant development in Doha-Cairo ties since their resumption in 2021.
Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has landed in Egypt on Friday where he was met with President Abdelfattah El Sisi, marking the first such visit since the 2017 blockade.
The Qatari leader landed in Cairo following a trip to Rwanda, where he participated at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Sheikh Tamim had received an invitation to visit Cairo in June last year from the Egyptian president.
His visit to Egypt comes more than a year after the signing of the Al-Ula declaration in January 2021, in which Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt signed the accord to end the region’s biggest diplomatic dispute in decades.
The rift was triggered when Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain imposed an illegal air, land and sea embargo on Qatar over claims that it supported terrorism. Qatar vehemently rejected those claims as baseless.
This is Sheikh Tamim’s second visit to Egypt since the 2013 military coup in Cairo that saw Sisi seize power from then-leader Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first ever democratically elected president.
The amir had travelled to Sharm El-Sheikh in 2015 to attend the Arab Summit, which also came after a previous 2014 GCC spat.
Analysts told Doha News that the visit marks a significant development in ties between Qatar and Egypt following the major dispute.
“The visit is certainly of significant importance given that it is the first of its kind in almost seven years and is expected to fully normalise the relations between Doha and Cairo and pave the way for the two players to strengthen their ties, especially on the economic level,” Dr. Ali Bakeer, political analyst and researcher, told Doha News.
Following the restoration of diplomatic ties last year, Qatar and Egypt have been witnessing what appears to be a new chapter in expanding relations, with mutual visits and agreements as key indicators.
Speaking to Doha News on Tuesday, Egypt’s Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said the two countries are now looking forward. His statements came after Doha and Cairo signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the expansion of financial and economic cooperation.
“We should look to the front, to the way forward. We hope that in the coming period our relationship will be stronger, and stronger and this is for the interest our future,” Maait said, on the sidelines of the Qatar Economic Forum (QEF) in Doha.
According to the World Bank, inflation in Egypt spiked to 8.8% in February, more than 2.7 percentage points higher than the average since the start of the 2021-2022 fiscal year. The increase has been attributed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which started on 24 February.
The ongoing war is expected to impact Egypt as a top importer of Russian and Ukrainian wheat, leading to higher food pieces. However, a Reuters report in April stated that the economy is expected to grow by 5.3% in the fiscal year ending June.
As Egypt scrambles to save its economy in light of the ongoing war in Ukraine, analysts also believe more agreements are expected to be announced during the amir’s visit.
Egypt already secured investment deals worth $5 billion during the visit of Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani to the Egyptian capital in March.
“We will also likely witness a series of economic agreements as an initiative to showcase goodwill between both parties[…]this comes at a time when Egypt is experiencing harsh economic realities as a result of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine,” Dr. Dania Thafer, Executive Director of Gulf International Forum, told Doha News.
However, while relations have appeared to warm, the Sisi regime continues to crackdown on the press, including Al Jazeera’s journalists.
Last month, an Egyptian court sentenced Doha-based Al Jazeera presenter Ahmed Taha to 15 years in prison in absentia. Taha was sentenced over claims of “spreading false news” during an interview with Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a leading opposition figure and former presidential candidate in 2018.
Such accusations are frequently raised against journalists and activists as Egypt continues to reign as one of the world’s worst jailer of the press.
There are four Al Jazeera journalists currently detained in Egypt, and it remains unclear whether their release will be an issue raised in the meeting between the two leaders on Friday.
The amir’s trip to Cairo comes weeks ahead of a high-profile GCC+3 summit in Riyadh, scheduled to take place on 16 July. The meeting is expected to be attended by US President Joe Biden and the three non-GCC countries, including Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
Biden is visiting the region between 13-16 July, though there appears to be no current current publicly scheduled visits to Qatar.
“The decision to visit Cairo now is interesting and critical as it is going parallel to the regional tour of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince MBS to Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey, and ahead of the anticipated visit of the US President to Riyadh amid an increasing warning of looming face-off between Israel and Iran,” said Dr. Bakeer.
Responding to a question over the summit’s possible outcomes, Dr. Bakeer predicted that some of the issues on the agenda would include regional and energy security, Iranian threats, and the Russian invasion.
Meanwhile, this week saw important travels, including the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to Turkey, the first since the killing of controversial Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi was murdered in 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Turkey, with CIA findings pointing towards the involvement of MBS in the killing.
Separately, a 2019 UN investigation concluded that the crime was a “premeditated extrajudicial execution”.
In a turn of events, Turkey decided in April to halt the trial of the killing and transferred it to Saudi Arabia instead.