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Egyptians Lash Out at Qatari 'Meddling'

  • Elizabeth Arrott

After years of growing influence, Qatar's apparent ambitions as a regional powerhouse have faltered in Tunisia and Syria and with what some experts say is its latest stumble in Egypt.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood may be on the run but fury against them, and their supporters abroad, has yet to abate.

A court in recent days ordered the closing of Al Jazeera's Egyptian channel, widely seen as backing the former Islamist-led government.

On the street, it's not just the channel, but the funder that has come under attack.

Driver Gamal Abu Seif is angry at both Al Jazeera and Qatar, saying Egypt should severe relations with them both. He says they've turned the whole world against his country.

Coverage by Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite powerhouse, fanned the spirit of revolution from Tunisia to Syria. It reveled in the election last year of Egypt's first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi.

Now, Tunisia and Libya are riven by strife. Syria has descended into a brutal civil war. And in Egypt, what is known as the "The Islamic Project" - a Brotherhood favorite - has come to a crashing halt.

"Al Jazeera was instrumental in the Arab Spring. It was taking the side of the people against autocratic regimes. Today it is taking the side of autocratic organizations against the people," said political sociologist Said Sadek.

The station and the nation are so closely entwined in many minds that Sadek calls Qatar a satellite network with a country attached.

Al Jazeera denies any bias in its reporting, saying it "carries no torch for any political party."

But Qatar's reach extends beyond the news. From plane loads of cash to help rebels in Libya, to providing weapons for Syria's rebels, Qatar's immense wealth from natural gas revenues has played a key role in uprisings across the region.

Security analyst Sameh Seif al-Yazal says Qatar is trying to upstage traditional regional financier Saudi Arabia.

"I don't think the Saudis are happy about that and the Egyptians are not happy about that, [because] by doing that they [Qatar] want to put themselves in a place which is much bigger than what they are," he said.

Yet as rich as Qatar is, Saudi Arabia can still outspend it - giving Egypt $5 billion after Morsi was ousted.

Qatar is also going up against years of Saudi-Egyptian cooperation, says Sadek.

"There is always cooperation diplomatically on many fields between the two countries. On Syrian situation, on Palestinian situation, on the Sudanese situation. So this is very normal it is not a new policy from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Qatar is an aberration in the system," he said.

Not that Qatar has given up. in a deal arranged with Morsi's government, much-needed natural gas is still on its way.