Qatar is not pouring petrodollars into Egypt out of fellow Arab altruism. Last week, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassim said the emirate would double its grants and loans to Egypt from $2.5 to $5 billion bringing the grand total in a single year to $7 billion.
Hamad denied his government’s generosity was tied to its plans to invest in the Suez Canal. But no one in Cairo, or more importantly, Riyadh, believed him. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in the Gulf report that it's an open secret that Qatari ruler Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani is tightening Qatar's economic and strategic hold on Egypt for a number of objectives:
1. To outflank a prime Saudi interest in a plan to build a bridge between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Qataris are planning to acquire a controlling interest in Egyptian resort sites dotted along the coasts of Sinai, the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea, or buy them outright against their cash grants to Cairo.
This plan would challenge the Saudi blueprint for a 50-kilometer causeway and bridge linking the desert kingdom to Egypt – running from Ras Hamid near Tabuk to Sharm el-Sheikh in southern Sinai. The royal family in Riyadh is keen on this plan for easing the travels of tens of thousands of hajj pilgrims to Mecca every year.
If it takes off – and for now it is under study by the Saudi and Egyptian governments – the pilgrims are envisaged by Qatar to need to set foot on Qatari real estate in Sinai or on the Red Sea in order to get on or get off the Saudi bridge.
Regional leverage by controlling the Suez Canal
2. By its hold on the Suez Canal region, Qatar would be able to control the passage through this key waterway of Iranian and Persian Gulf oil tanker traffic. Little Qatar, a country of 2 million inhabitants, would thus raise its strategic leverage level to that of its Persian Gulf neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia.
3. The Qataris received a major boost on the world scene from the Qatari ruler’s visit to Gaza last October, followed in the third week of November by his diplomats’ role as co-broker with Egypt, Turkey and the US for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas Gaza war.
This combined effort gave rise to reports, carried also by this publication, of a bid by Washington to establish a new Sunni Muslim axis in the Middle East, based on the same partners and supported by American and Israel intelligence input.
These reports have been treated with extreme caution in Jerusalem, because too many elements in the putative alliance are still up in the air.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report that Israel, like many Egyptian and Gulf circles, is leery of Qatar’s underlying intentions for Egypt, and the extent to which those intentions are underwritten by Washington. To be on the safe side, Israel is focusing on improving its bilateral relations separately with each of the presumed members of this axis – Turkey, Qatar and Egypt.
Qatari largesse will keep Egyptians fed for just three months
These uncertainties are holding Riyadh back from laying out a single dollar for rescuing the most important Arab nation from bankruptcy. Egyptian Government reserves have dropped by more than half, plummeting from $36 billion in 2011 to just $15 billion today. That’s enough to cover just three months of imports of vital commodities such as food and petroleum. The country’s national currency, the Egyptian Pound, is in freefall. At the same time, unemployment has surged, now estimated officially at nearly 13 percent and rising, but the real figures are around 25 percent.
An article in the Al-Ahram Weekly on Jan 9, titled "Getting Closer to Qatar," stated: "There is a sense of dismay in Cairo that despite the continued commitment that [President] Morsi has made to the ‘traditional foreign policy guidelines’ of siding with the Saudi point of view, Saudi Arabia has not come to the economic rescue of Egypt."
According to our Gulf sources, the Saudis calculate that Qatari aid will tide President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood temporarily and enable them to sustain the machinery for keeping themselves in power.
However, Qatari funds will only cover the next three months’ supplies of vital commodities like food and petroleum for Egypt's population of up to 90 million. After that, Qatar will have to put its hand in its pocket again to sustain its hold on Egypt and develop profitable enterprises there.
US military aid goes straight to the army
In the view of Saudi Arabia’s royal rulers, Doha will soon discover, like the Russians and Americans before them, that Egypt is a bottomless pit. They will then draw a line on providing unending cash infusions. For now, US military and financial aid is going straight to the Egyptian military and enabling the generals to function independently of the Muslim Brotherhood government.
So, two ruling apparatuses operate independently of one another in today’s post-revolutionary Cairo: The army and the Islamist government. No one really cares what happens to the rest of the country or how the ordinary Egyptian manages to survive.