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July 4, 2013 10:29 am
The ousting of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s president has provoked glee in some Gulf capitals but studied neutrality from Qatar, highlighting profound divisions across the Arabian Peninsula over the ex-leader’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The Gulf regional giant Saudi Arabia and its neighbour the United Arab Emirates welcomed Mr Morsi’s fall, echoing their increasing hostility to the Brotherhood as its power has grown across the Middle East over the past two and half years of uprisings.
Qatar’s contrasting reticence underscores the blow Mr Morsi’s removal by the Egyptian army has dealt to Doha’s policy of funnelling billions of dollars of aid to Cairo as part of a broader policy of supporting Islamists around the region.
The UAE, which is normally cautious about appearing to interfere in other countries’ political controversies, quickly issued a statement welcoming the Egyptian military’s action against Mr Morsi. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, foreign minister, expressed confidence that the “great people of Egypt” would be “able to cross these difficult moments that Egypt is going through”, according to Wam, the state news agency in Abu Dhabi.
“Sheikh Abdullah said that the great Egyptian army was able to prove again that they are the fence of Egypt and that they are the protector and strong shield that guarantee Egypt will remain a state of institutions and law,” Wam added.
In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah sent congratulations to Adli Mansour, the Egyptian army’s choice as interim head of state, according to the official Saudi press agency. The statement also praised the military for leading Egypt out of a “tunnel that only God knows its dimensions and repercussions”.
Both Gulf governments’ comments reflect a deep antipathy to the Muslim Brotherhood and a fear that its growing regional sway and international reach could threaten the autocratic monarchies of the Arabian peninsula. The UAE’s supreme court this week handed down long jail terms to 69 people it claimed were part of a foreign-back Islamist plot to overthrow the government, after a trial that was condemned by international human rights groups and criticised even by Abu Dhabi’s close ally London.
In contrast to the delight in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Mr Morsi’s fall is bad news for Doha, which has poured $8bn of financial support into Egypt. Qatar has increasingly recognised that it has been blamed by opponents of the former president for some of the country’s problems.
The government’s measured response to the events in Cairo was broadcast on state-owned Al Jazeera television. “Qatar supports the will of the Egyptian people and views Egypt as a leader in the Arab and Islamic world,” a foreign ministry source was quoted as saying. “Qatar will continue to respect the will of Egypt and its people across the spectrum.”
The differing Gulf views are part of a wider and yet more complex battle in the region over Islamism in general. While Saudi Arabia’s distaste for the Brotherhood has not stopped it joining Qatar in arming a Syrian opposition movement that has an increasingly strong Islamist element, the UAE has stood back from the politics of Syria and instead focused its money on delivering aid to refugees.
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