The traffic jam that has hit the streets of Cairo and several Egyptian governorates in the past two days following heavy rainfall prompted Twitter and Facebook users to ask sarcastically, "Why didn't Qatar help us remove the water, like it helped helped Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi by granting him $4 billion, which he is bragging about?"
This joke not only scrutinizes and criticizes the growing role of Qatar in Egyptian affairs since Morsi assumed power, but also carries an implicit accusation against the president himself of providing false figures concerning the loans granted to Egypt.
In his latest address before the Shura Council, Morsi said that Egypt's cash reserves have reached $15 billion, without explaining that this amount includes the $4 billion he received from Qatar as a cash deposit.
But these funds are not the end of the story. The press conference held yesterday [Jan. 9], after Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani met with Morsi and Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, was heated.
Hamad found himself having to respond to questions and accusations regarding Qatar's role in Egypt’s political and economic affairs. He said that "Egypt is too great to be dominated by anyone."
Hamad said that if the right to vote in a parliamentary or presidential election in Egypt was granted to everyone in Qatar, the outcome would not be affected. Hamad was referring to Qatar's small population (1.6 million people including expatriates, compared to 90 million in Egypt).
However, the impact that Egyptians worry about has absolutely nothing to do with Qatar's population, but with money and influence.
It was recently rumored that Qatar intended to acquire the Suez Canal in a gradual deal, beginning with developing the canal and managing a few facilities as a prelude to granting it a concession for a period of 99 years. That is about the same period obtained by French adventurer Ferdinand de Lesseps, who persuaded the governor of Egypt, Muhammad Said Pasha, to develop the canal in the mid-nineteenth century.
Talk about the Suez Canal was initially brought up by former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq at the height of his campaign during the presidential election run-off last June. The issue was dealt with lightly by the Muslim Brotherhood, but resonated within the opposition, especially after multiple visits were made by Qatari officials to Egypt, most notably by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Prime Minister Hamad. There were also rumors that Qatar’s Director of Intelligence Ahmed Bin Thani made a secret visit to Egypt last May, where he allegedly met with Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie. The group’s denial of the news did not stop its spread.
So the Qatari prime minister found himself obliged to answer a question about Qatar’s intentions regarding the Suez Canal. He said that all talk about this matter is a mere joke, and that there are no Qatari projects concerning the canal, which he considered to have a special Egyptian heritage.
The visit of the Qatari emir to Egypt in October was exceptional. He made it as a stopover on his unprecedented visit to the Gaza Strip, a visit that was accompanied by a high-security detail in Egypt until the Rafah border crossing.
The Qatari prime minister's recent visit to Cairo seemed to have vague goals. The visit was unannounced and did not have a clear schedule. Some interpreted it as simply public support from the Qatari emir to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, in the face of the severe economic crisis in Egypt and mounting opposition to the Brotherhood regime. This might be true, given that the visit ended by the announcement of a joint Egyptian-Qatari economic project worth $18 billion, and a prospective visit by the Qatari minister of finance to Cairo next week to lay out the technical details of this economic support.
This raises further questions about Qatar’s goal and striking presence in Egyptian affairs, especially given the apparently strong relationship between the Brotherhood and Qatar before the Mubarak regime fell on Feb. 11, 2011.
Specifically, many leading figures at Al Jazeera news are Brotherhood-affiliated Egyptians. Also, the Muslim Brotherhood in Qatar dissolved itself in 1999, just four years after the ascent of Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to power, under the pretext that the new regime "applies Sharia law."
The role of Qatar's Al Jazeera channel and its sister channel Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, and their adoption of the views of the ruling regime in Egypt, is evident in the channel’s coverage of the events relating to the Constituent Assembly (dominated by a Muslim majority), the demonstrations that came out in support of Morsi's decisions, the events that took place around the Federal Palace and the mass demonstrations against the constitutional declaration through which Morsi rendered his decisions immune from judicial review. In addition, Brotherhood guests and loyalists dominate most of the channel’s programs tackling Egyptian political affairs.
Al Jazeera enjoys significant viewership, especially among supporters of the Islamic trend and those in the middle class inclined towards the Islamists.
Thus — through two arms, the economy and the media — concern is growing amongst Brotherhood opponents of a continued escalation of Qatari interference in the country's internal affairs, and its impact on Egyptian decision-making, which seems to be fully consistent with the Qatari point of view on Syria — and perhaps with regard to Israel.
This brings to mind the role played by Qatar in the "Libyan revolution," and the successive confessions by Libyan leaders opposed to the Qaddafi regime — including the head of the National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdul Jalil — that Qatar provided arms and nearly $10 billion to the militias that fought Gaddafi's forces in exchange for a partnership with international institutions involving the acquisition of Libyan oil.
The question remains: What does Qatar want from Egypt other than extended economic power and influence in political decision-making?