Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and top Qatari envoys went through the motions of formalizing the Saudi-brokered reconciliation between them, when they met in Cairo Saturday, Dec. 20.
The Saudis hailed the first meeting between Sisi and Qatari officials, since the Egyptian ruler took office last summer, as the turning of a new page between the two Arab states. And Shekh Mohammad bin Abdel Rahman al Thani, the Qatar Emir’s special envoy, expressed support for “a leading role for Egypt in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
These steps were in keeping with the policy adopted by the Gulf Cooperation Council summit of late November in Doha to end the dispute between the GCC and Qatar and “contribute to Egyptian security and stability.”
However the Gulf rulers also agreed to disagree on certain key policies, such as the Syrian conflict, on which each member would abide by its position.
At the same time, the Qatari emir did bow to the Saudi and Egyptian demand to tone down his support for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and halt the anti-Saudi and anti-Egyptian propaganda broadcast by El Jazeera.
But behind the meticulously constructed edifice of good intentions, formal statements and peace-pipe smoking among rulers, the main bone of intention, Qatar’s sponsorship of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian offshoot Hamas, remained unresolved.
This week, Saudi Arabia was deeply affronted by Hamas and furiously demanded the deportation of the Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal from Qatar, maintaining that his presence on emirate soil was unacceptable and jarred with GCC resolutions.
Riyadh was reacting to a development (first revealed by debkafile on Dec. 19): Hamas leaders did not bother to reply to an offer of Saudi sponsorship coupled with a magnanimous financial, political and economic aid package for the Gaza Strip. There was one proviso: Gaza’s rulers must turn their backs on Iran.
Hamas chiefs, instead of sending a reply to Riyadh, showed their contempt by a final decision to strengthen their financial and military ties with Tehran and bury the hatchet with Syrian ruler Bashar Assad.
Meshaal began packing his bags for a trip to the Iranian capital in a few days time, to attend a ceremony marking the reconciliation between Iran, Syria and the radical Hamas.
The approaching radical alliance was marked Friday by Hamas rocket fire against Israel, which was met by an Israeli air strike that night which destroyed a Hamas cement factory.
Saudi and Egyptians feel badly let down by Qatar. They are sure that had the emir squeezed hard enough, Hamas would have been forced to turn away from its alliance with Iran and Syria. But he did not, and Riyadh and Cairo strongly suspect that Qatar has engaged in an intrigue against them with Iran. Al Jazeera meanwhile has not altered its tone, despite the promises from Doha.
It remains to be seen whether Saudi King Abdullah and Egypt’s El-Sisi decide to throw down the cards and punish Qatar and Hamas, or are willing to climb over the ups and downs and give the fluctuating course of “reconciliation” another try after all.