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Photo for illustrative purposes only.


Photo for illustrative purposes only.

With reporting from Heba Fahmy

Diplomatic tensions have again flared up between Qatar and Egypt, this time over escalating violence in Libya.

Early this morning, Qatar announced through its state news agency that it was recalling its ambassador to Cairo “for consultations” over an inflammatory statement made by Egypt’s delegate to the Arab League.

Such moves are generally used to publicly display diplomatic disapproval between countries.

The charge came after Qatar expressed reservations about a clause in a joint Arab League communique that welcomed Egypt’s recent air strikes on ISIL targets in Libya.

Qatar News Agency’s statement did not repeat the offending comments.

But according to Egypt’s state television network, Egyptian Arab League delegate Tariq Adel said that Qatar’s hesitation was about ”Egypt’s legitimate right to defend itself,” and revealed Doha’s “supportive stance of terrorism.”

He said he wasn’t surprised at the position taken by Qatar, which is ”constantly taking stances opposing Egypt,’’ adding that Doha’s position deviated from the “Arab consensus.”

Air strikes

Earlier this week, ISIL released a video depicting the execution of 21 Egyptian Christians who had been kidnapped in Libya. In response, Egypt launched air raids on militant camps, training sites and weapons storage areas in the neighboring country.

While Cairo lauded the operation as a success, footage aired by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera showed evidence that civilians were injured in Egypt’s air raids:

In a statement released early this morning, Qatar ambassador Saad bin Ali Al Mohannadi, director of the country’s Arab affairs department, said that there should be consultations between Arab League members before one country launches unilateral military action that could result in civilian casualties in another member state.

He also condemned the killing of the Egyptians at the hands of ISIL, but added that:

“Qatar should not be mentioned as a reason for any failure by the Egyptian government. The State of Qatar denounces such a tense statement, which confuses the need to combat terrorism and the brutal killing and burning of civilians.”

Two steps back

The latest diplomatic rift comes at a time when strained relations between Qatar and Egypt had appeared to be improving.

Qatar and Egypt flag


Qatar and Egypt flag

The two countries had been at odds following the 2013 ouster of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

Qatar has supported Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood political party, which Egypt subsequently declared a terrorist organization.

Relations continued to fray after Qatar condemned Cairo’s crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

Meanwhile, Egypt demanded that the Gulf country extradite prominent Islamic cleric Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, who is an Egyptian-born naturalized Qatari citizen who has repeatedly denounced the military-backed Egyptian government.

But in recent months, there had been signs that tensions between the two countries were dissipating.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with a special envoy representing Qatar’s Emir in December, which was followed by an announcement that Doha-based Al Jazeera Media Network – which some had accused of carrying a pro-Muslim Brotherhood editorial bias – would suspend its Egypt-focused channel, Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr.

A file photo of the three Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt.

Amy Feldtmann/Twitter

A file photo of the three Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt.

Additionally, Egypt released from prison two Al Jazeera journalists out on bail and freed another outright after the trio spent more than a year in custody on disputed charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

The moves came amid a Saudi-brokered effort the mend relations between the two countries led by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who died last month. His passing raised questions in the Egyptian media over whether reconciliation efforts would continue.

Qatar and Egypt had previously found themselves supporting opposing camps in Libya. Over the summer, military planes from Egypt and the UAE bombed fighters in Tripoli that were believed to be part of a faction that received arms and financial support from Qatar.


Handcuffs / arrest

v1ctor Casale / Flickr / Photo for illustrative purposes only

The Qatari government has denied a Reuters report that six Qatari men were arrested over the weekend at a Libyan airport with fake passports and a large amount of cash.

The news report cited an unnamed security source at the Benina International Airport in Benghazi as saying the men were preparing to board a Turkish Airlines flight on Saturday to Istanbul, where they were scheduled to transfer to another flight on to Doha.

The men reportedly had no checked luggage but carried forged Libyan passports and 180,000 Libyan dinars (US$143,719). Libyans do not require a visa to enter Turkey.

However, Qatar’s ambassador to Libya, Sheikh Mohammed bin Nasser Al Thani, called that report “totally baseless” in a two-sentence statement issued by the Qatar News Agency.

A spokesperson for Libya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that six men had been arrested while in possession of fraudulent Libyan passports, but told Doha News that their nationality was unknown:

“We cannot confirm if all of them or (some) of them or any of them are Qatari,” Said Al-Aswad said. “We cannot confirm that we have anything to believe (that they are Qatari). We are waiting for a report from security (investigators).”

Strained relations

The Reuters report said security at the small Benina airport in Benghazi is often lax, and that western diplomats fear it is being used by Islamists to travel to Turkey and join up with Syrian rebels, which Qatar supports.

Qatar also supported the rebels in Libya, sending hundreds of troops as well as fighter jets to help them overthrow Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011.

However, the Gulf country’s relationship with Libya has since cooled. In 2012, Ali Tarhouni – the former National Transitional Council deputy prime minister in Libya – told Time Magazine that Qatar was favoring Islamist leaders:

“I think what they have done is basically support the Muslim Brotherhood … They have brought armaments and they have given them to people that we don’t know.”

More recently, a Libyan militia shut down Qatar Airways’ office in Tripoli in August 2013, a month after the airline launched a direct flight to the Libyan capital.

It was unclear which group was responsible, but they appeared to be motivated by the belief that Qatar is interfering in Libya’s internal affairs.

Officially, Qatar has said it respects the “will and choices of the Libyan people to achieve their legitimate aspirations for reform and decent life.”



A month after Qatar Airways began flying non-stop to Tripoli, a Libyan militia there has shuttered its office at the airport.

On Saturday, a sign was posted on the airline’s office door in Arabic, reading, “Closed by the order of the Libyan people.” 

It is unclear which group is responsible for shutting down the office, but they appear to be motivated by the belief that Qatar is interfering in Libya’s internal affairs.

The GCC country was instrumental in the ousting of former President Col. Moammar Gaddafi, but was later accused by some groups of showing favoritism to Islamist leaders.

Despite these opinions, Libya’s Ministry of Interior condemned the office closure, calling it a “shameful act” that sends the wrong message to the international community and hinders economic development at home. 

Past problems

This is not the first time Qatar’s national carrier has had problems in Libya. In June, Qatar Airways suspended flights between Doha and Benghazi after Libyan protesters prevented some passengers from entering the country through passport control.

Libyan passengers heading to Doha were also reportedly prevented from flying, the Libya Herald reports. The route remains unavailable for booking on the Qatar Airways website.

The airline did not respond to requests for comment regarding the Tripoli office closure, but a spokesperson previously told the Herald that the Benghazi flights were suspended for “commercial reasons.”


Credit: Photo courtesy of Good Morning Libya on Twitter