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Qatar attends naval base opening in Egypt

A Qatari delegation has attended the inauguration of a naval base on Egypt’s western coast near the Libyan border, in the latest sign of improving ties between Cairo and Doha.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) meets with Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, Cairo, Egypt, May 25, 2021.

CAIRO — For the first time in years, Qatar took part July 3 in the inauguration of an Egyptian naval base in the Gargoub area, on the Egyptian northwestern Mediterranean coast near the border with Libya. 

The ceremony was also attended by Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Mohammed al-Menfi, head of Libya’s ruling Presidential Council. 

The Qatari participation is a harbinger of the first Egyptian-Qatari consensus over the Libyan crisis — following a disagreement that dragged for more than eight years over this dossier — and of better bilateral relations since the Gulf reconciliation. 

Commander of the Qatar Emiri Naval Force Maj. Gen. Abdullah bin Hassan al-Sulaiti represented Qatar at the inauguration ceremony.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi inaugurated the military base in the presence of the Qatari delegation. The base is the most recent to be built on the Mediterranean Sea, and has been designed to secure the country’s northern and western border and shipping lines through naval forces and equipment.

Relations between Cairo and Doha improved following the signing of a declaration in al-Ula, in Saudi Arabia, in January, laying the foundation for reconciliation between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on the one hand and Qatar on the other, following a rupture that dragged on since 2017.

Rakha Hassan, a former Foreign Ministry assistant minister and member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, told Al-Monitor by phone that the presence of a Qatari delegation at the inauguration of the naval base is a strong sign pointing at an Egyptian-Qatari consensus to resolve the Libyan crisis through the two countries’ joint efforts to achieve reconciliation in Libya and unify its military institution, to hold the elections by 2021, and restore stability and peace in the North African country.

He said that the presence of the Qatari delegation delivers to Turkey a message that the new naval base is designed to protect Egyptian and Arab national security and preserve Egyptian natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean basin, such as gas.

Hassan noted that relations between Cairo and Doha have begun to return to normal, and that it took the two countries time to achieve this improvement since the al-Ula declaration and subsequent meetings at the diplomatic and security level, so as to settle outstanding issues and disputes over the Muslim Brotherhood, media platforms and the Libyan crisis, among other issues.

He added that Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani visited Cairo May 25 and handed over to Sisi an invitation by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to visit Doha. He said that Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Doha June 15 for the first time in years, and handed Qatar’s emir an invitation by Sisi to visit Cairo.

On June 23, Egypt upgraded its diplomatic representation in Doha, by appointing a new ambassador, Hassan said. 

All of these moves prove that the two countries’ bilateral relations have improved, after the yearslong tension and disputes, he noted, adding that they also demonstrate that all differences can be settled based on a common Arab ground, most notably the Libyan issue.

Yahya al-Kedwaneh, a member of the parliamentary National Defense and Security Committee, shares the same opinion. He told Al-Monitor via phone that Egypt has always strived to unify the Arab ranks, to preserve Egyptian and Arab national security alike and confront all external challenges. Thus, Egypt welcomed Doha’s openness, turning the page on the past disputes, he added.

He said that the Qatari delegation’s presence at the opening of the naval base near the Libyan border indicates that there is an Egyptian-Qatari consensus to resolve the Libyan crisis and settle the crisis politically so as to restore stability and security in Libya.

Kedwaneh noted that Egypt welcomes the positive developments in its relations with Qatar, as long as there is no interference in the Egyptian internal affairs, and there is commitment to what was agreed upon at the reconciliation summit in al-Ula. That is an important matter that supports the strong Arab position in boosting stability, not only in Libya, but also in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as long as there is a common Arab ground aimed at protecting Arab national security, he said.

Hamdi Bakhit, a strategic and military expert and adviser at the Nasser Military Academy, said that the Qatari delegation’s participation at the opening of the Egyptian military base near the Libyan border is evidence of Doha’s good intention to set up strong and balanced relations with Cairo, following the yearslong tension and disagreements between the two sides.

Bakhit told Al-Monitor by phone that the Qatari delegation’s participation is also a sign of the Qatari support for the Egyptian efforts to settle the Libyan crisis politically and to hold elections on time so as to restore stability and security in Tripoli, despite Qatar’s good relations with Turkey. It also reflects the Qatari support for the Egyptian efforts to protect its national and Arab security as well, he added.

He noted that Qatar has begun to take the right path when it comes to its relations with Egypt since the al-Ula summit, which indicates that their relations will further develop. Cairo welcomes such moves and is being responsive with Doha, he concluded.