Posts Tagged ‘Muslim Brotherhood’

Saudi calls for people to report subversive comments on social media — Human rights watchdog calls this “Orwellian”

September 13, 2017

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A Saudi man explores a website on his laptop in Riyadh February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has urged its people to report subversive comments spotted on social media via a phone app, a move denounced by a human rights watchdog as “Orwellian”.

The appeal, announced on a Twitter account run by the interior ministry late on Tuesday, coincides with an apparent crackdown on potential government critics and a call by exiled opposition figures for demonstrations.

“When you notice any account on social networks publishing terrorist or extremist ideas, please report it immediately via the application #We‘re_all_security”, it said, referring to a mobile phone app launched last year to enable civilians to report traffic violations and burglaries.

Hours later, the public prosecutor tweeted a section of the kingdom’s terrorism law which states: “Endangering national unity, obstructing the Basic Law of governance or some of its articles, and harming the state’s reputation or status are terrorist crimes.”

Exiled Saudi critics have called for demonstrations on Friday to galvanize opposition to the royal family and prominent clerics, intellectuals and activists, including prominent Islamist cleric Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, have been detained this week, activists say.

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Islamist cleric Sheikh Salman al-Awdah

Activists circulated lists of people detained on social media showing the number had risen to around 30 on Wednesday, including some with no clear links to Islamist activity or obvious history of opposition.

Protests are banned in Saudi Arabia, as are political parties. Unions are illegal, the press is controlled and criticism of the royal family can lead to prison.

Riyadh says it does not have political prisoners, but senior officials have said monitoring activists is needed to maintain social stability.

The detentions reported by activists follow widespread speculation, denied by officials, that King Salman intends to abdicate to his son, Crown Prince Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who dominates economic, diplomatic and domestic policy.

There are also growing tensions with Qatar over its alleged support of Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood which is listed by Riyadh as a terrorist organization.

Some Twitter users expressed support for the government’s approach, using the “We’re all Security” hashtag.

“No flattery, no silence whether for a relative or friend in securing the homeland,” said one. “Defend your security. Chaos starts with slogans of freedom and reform. Do not believe them.”

Another user called on people to photograph any “low-lifes” protesting on Friday and upload them to the app.


Human Rights Watch, a New York-based watchdog, condemned the government dragnet, saying it called into question the authorities’ commitment to free speech and the rule of law.

“Saudi Arabia is reaching a new level of Orwellian reality when it goes beyond security services’ repression and outsources monitoring of citizens’ online comments to other citizens,” said Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson, referring to English writer George Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.

“Saudi Arabia’s new leadership is quickly showing it has no tolerance for critical thought or speech and is marshalling Saudi society to enforce red lines by spying on itself.”

The government has not clearly acknowledged this week’s detentions or responded to requests for comment.

But state news agency SPA said on Tuesday authorities had uncovered “intelligence activities for the benefit of foreign parties” by a group of people it did not identify.

A Saudi security source told Reuters the suspects were accused of “espionage activities and having contacts with external entities including the Muslim Brotherhood”, which Riyadh has classified as a terrorist organization.

The government toughened its stance on dissent following the Arab Spring in 2011 after it averted unrest by offering billions of dollars in handouts and state spending.

But the Brotherhood, which represents an ideological threat to Riyadh’s dynastic system of rule, has gained power elsewhere in the region.

Since the kingdom’s founding, the ruling Al Saud family has enjoyed a close alliance with clerics of the ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Islam. In return, the clerics have espoused a political philosophy that demands obedience to the ruler.

By contrast the Muslim Brotherhood advances an active political doctrine urging revolutionary action, which flies in the face of Wahhabi teaching.

The Brotherhood-inspired Sahwa movement in the 1990s agitated to bring democracy to Saudi Arabia and criticized the ruling family for corruption, social liberalization and working with the West, including allowing U.S. troops into the kingdom during the 1991 Iraq war.

The Sahwa were largely undermined by a mixture of repression and co-optation but remain active.

The al-Saud family has always regarded Islamist groups as the biggest internal threat to its rule over a country in which appeals to religious sentiment cannot be lightly dismissed and an al Qaeda campaign a decade ago killed hundreds.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June over its alleged support for Islamist militants, a charge that Doha denies.

Editing by Timothy Heritage


Rights Group Slams Egypt’s ‘Nationalization’ of Media

September 13, 2017

CAIRO — An international media rights group has voiced alarm over Egypt’s “roundabout nationalization” of once-independent outlets.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday criticized the state-run Akhbar al-Youm newspaper’s recent acquisition of the English-language Daily News Egypt and Al-Borsa, a financial daily.

Authorities froze the assets of the publications’ parent company last year and placed its chairman on a terrorism list over his suspected links to the Muslim Brotherhood group. Egypt has also blocked the outlets’ websites.

Egypt has blocked hundreds of websites in recent months, including many operated by independent journalists and rights groups, as part of a broader crackdown on dissent.

Virtually all local media outlets in Egypt today are supportive of the government, which came to power after the military overthrew an elected Islamist president in 2013.

Egypt Defends Human Rights Position After Criticism From UNHCR

September 12, 2017

CAIRO — Egypt’s United Nations envoy on Tuesday criticized U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein’s remarks on systemic violence in the country, saying they reflected “flawed logic”, state news agency MENA reported.

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U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein — UN Photo -Jean-Marc Ferré

Ambassador Amr Ramadan was quoted as saying that he had cautioned Hussein against his office becoming a “mouthpiece for paid agencies with political and economic agendas,” and he rejected his accusations, without elaborating.

At a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on Monday, Hussein said the state of emergency declared by the Egyptian government last April had been used to justify “systemic silencing of civil society.”

He cited reports of waves of arrests, arbitrary detention, black-listing, travel bans, asset freezes, intimidation and other reprisals against human rights defenders, journalists, political dissidents and those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood group.

Last week Egypt came under fire from Human Rights Watch, which said in a report that there was systemic torture in the country’s jails, leading Cairo to block access to HRW’s website.

Egypt’s human rights parliamentary committee, which was critical of the report, has also developed an action plan in response, state media reported on Tuesday.

The plan reportedly includes meeting with foreign diplomats in Egypt and outside the country to explain its efforts to defend human rights.

(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla; Additional reporting by Mostafa Hashem in Cairo and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Saudi Arabia arrests prominent clerics as dispute with Qatar heats up

September 11, 2017


DUBAI (Reuters) – A prominent Saudi religious leader has been arrested, according to social media postings on Sunday, in what appears to be a crackdown on Islamists seen as critics of the conservative kingdom’s absolute rulers.

Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential cleric who was imprisoned from 1994-99 for agitating for political change and has 14 million followers on Twitter, appears to have been detained over the weekend, the posting suggested.

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Salman al-Ouda

In one of his last postings on Twitter, he welcomed a report on Friday suggesting that a three-month-old row between Qatar and four Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia may be resolved.

“May God harmonize between their hearts for the good of their people,” Awdah said on Twitter after a report of a telephone call between Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss ways to resolve the rift which began in June.

© Fayez Nureldine, AFP | Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) and Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani have reportedly held their first telephone conversation since the start of the diplomatic standoff in June.

Hopes for a breakthrough were quickly dashed when Saudi Arabia suspended any dialogue with Qatar, accusing it of “distorting facts”.

Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt accuse Qatar of supporting Islamist militants, a charge Doha denies.

Awdah was the second cleric reported detained by Saudi authorities in the past week. Reports on social media said that Awad al-Qarni, another prominent cleric with 2.2 million Twitter followers, was also detained from his home in Abha in southern Saudi Arabia.

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Saudi cleric Sheikh Ayed al-Qarni

Like Awdah, Qarni had also expressed support for reconciliation between Arab countries and Qatar.

Saudi officials could not immediately be reached for a comment on the reported arrests.

The al-Saud family has always regarded Islamist groups as the biggest internal threat to its rule over a country where appeals to religious sentiment can never be lightly dismissed and where Islamist militants have previously targeted the state.

A decade ago it fought off an al Qaeda campaign of attacks targeting officials and foreigners that killed hundreds. In the 1990s, the Sahwa (Awakening) movement inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood demanded political reforms that would have weakened the ruling family.

Reports of the arrests coincided with widespread speculation, dismissed by officials, that King Salman intends to abdicate in favor of Crown Prince Mohammed.

Asked about the reasons for the arrests, a Saudi analyst speculated: “(To) crush the Muslim Brotherhood or scare others if their plan is for him (Crown Prince Mohammed) to be king.”

Exiled Saudi opposition activists have called for protests on September 15 intended to galvanize opposition to the royal family.

Egyptian Security Forces Kill 10 Suspected Militants in Cairo

September 10, 2017


CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s security forces killed 10 suspected militants on Sunday in a shootout during a raid on two apartments in central Cairo, two security sources said.

Three policemen were injured after one suspected militant detonated an explosive device to block their entry into the building and two other policemen were injured during the exchange of fire that followed.

One source said authorities received a tip off about the hideouts of the individuals, who they suspect of being members of Hasm, a group which has claimed several attacks around the Egyptian capital targeting judges and policemen since last year.

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Egypt accuses Hasm of being a militant wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group it outlawed in 2013. The Muslim Brotherhood denies this.

An Islamist insurgency in the rugged Sinai peninsula strengthened after the Egyptian military overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in mid-2013 following mass protests against his rule.

The militant group staging the insurgency pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2014. It is blamed for the killing of hundreds of soldiers and policemen, and has started to target other areas, including Egypt’s Christian Copts.

(Reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Mark Potter)

Hamas Leader in Cairo to Discuss Gaza Blockade

September 9, 2017

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Leaders of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh

GAZA — The new chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived in Cairo on Saturday to hold talks with senior Egyptian officials about the blockade of Gaza on his first such visit as leader, a Hamas spokesman said.

In the past few months Hamas has sought to mend relations with Egypt, which controls their one international border crossing from the Gaza Strip. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been wary of ties between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, ousted from power by Sisi after mass protests.

Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, a densely populated coastal territory that shares borders with Egypt and Israel, with which it has fought three wars since 2008.

For much of the last decade, Egypt has joined Israel in enforcing a partial land, sea and air blockade of Gaza.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the talks with Egypt will focus on alleviating the blockade and mending a longstanding rift with rival group Fatah, headed by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

An Egyptian source confirmed Haniyeh’s arrival with a delegation for talks on the border crossing, security and power supplies.

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Haniyeh with Turkey’s Erdogan

Haniyeh was elected Hamas leader in May. The group maintains a sizeable armed wing in Gaza since seizing the enclave from Fatah in 2007.

Hoping to pressure Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza, Abbas has cut payments to Israel for the electricity it supplies to Gaza. This means that electricity has often been provided for less than four hours a day, and never more than six.

Abbas has vowed to keep up sanctions against Gaza, saying measures are aimed against Hamas and not ordinary people. In turn, Hamas is trying to make a crack in the wall of sanctions by improving its relations with Egypt and other Arab countries.

Israel, which signed a 1979 peace treaty with Egypt and coordinates closely with it on security, is maintaining a close watch on discussions between Egypt and Hamas. Like the United States and the European Union, it regards Hamas as a terrorist group.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by Maayan Lubell and Ros Russell)

Qatar Says No Sign Arab States Willing to Negotiate Over Boycott

August 30, 2017

DOHA — Qatar’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that his country was willing to negotiate an end to a Gulf diplomatic rift but had seen no sign that Saudi Arabia and other countries imposing sanctions on Doha were open to mediation.

Kuwait and the United States are trying to heal a bitter dispute between Qatar and four Arab countries that has damaged business ties and disrupted travel for thousands of citizens in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Emirates severed political and trade ties with the small gas-rich country on June 4, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Doha denies the charges.

A visit this week to the UAE and Qatar by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov showed no signs of having eased tensions among the Gulf Arab powers.

“Qatar maintains its position that this crisis can only be achieved through a constructive dialogue … but the blockading counties are not responding to any efforts being conducted by Kuwait or other friendly countries,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told reporters in Doha on Wednesday at a news conference with his Russian counterpart.

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Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani

The UAE’s ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, in an interview with U.S.-based magazine the Atlantic on Monday, said his country would negotiate with Qatar so long as Doha did not set any preconditions for talks.

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Yousef al-Otaiba

Sheikh Mohammed said on Wednesday Qatar planned to bolster trade with Russia, one of the world’s biggest gas exporters, and that Qatar could no longer rely on neighboring states to support its economy or guarantee food security.

Lavrov said if face-to-face negotiations started, Russia would be ready to contribute to the mediation and that it was in Russia’s interest “for the GCC to be united and strong”.

(Reporting by Tom Finn; Editing by Alison Williams)


  (UAE’s ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, in an interview with U.S.-based magazine the Atlantic)

Emirati Ambassador: Qatar Is a Destructive Force in the Region

August 30, 2017

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United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the U.S., Yousef al Otaiba.  Credit Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Yousef al-Otaiba on the Gulf crisis and the future of the Middle East


The Atlantic

AUG 28, 2017

Three months ago, six countries led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar, a fellow member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Qatar’s foes declared it complicit with extremism—citing, among other things, its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas—and argued that it was too close to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s nemesis in the Middle East. Not long after, they issued 13 demands to Qatar, including that it “curb diplomatic ties with Iran” and “shut down” the state-backed broadcaster Al Jazeera, and more generally “end interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs” through contacts with opposition figures. Qatar vowed not to negotiate; despite some mediation efforts from the United States and Kuwait, the standoff has continued ever since. Last week, Qatar, trolling its erstwhile Gulf partners, restored diplomatic relations with Iran, which had been broken in  2016.

The battle for leadership of the Gulf is also playing out in Washington, through hacks, leaks, and influence campaigns. Weeks before Qatar-GCC relations reached a crisis point, Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the United States—a person widely seen as the most influential Arab ambassador in Washington—saw his email account breached; new reports based on their contents are still surfacing. Immediately preceding the break in relations, other hackers allegedly planted a false story on Qatari news sites in which the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is quoted calling Iran an “Islamic power” and urging the other Gulf states to drop their policy of confrontation with the country. The Qataris disavowed those remarks. The UAE was accused of orchestrating that hack; and the UAE in turn denied involvement.

The level of dysfunction in the GCC has become breathtaking, even more so because President Trump has lined up with Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Qatar, declaring on Twitter that it was “so good to see” Saudi Arabia and others taking a hard line on Qatar, and that “perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!” It was not clear if Trump knew that Qatar hosted the biggest American air base in the Middle East, Al Udeid, which houses about 10,000 American military personnel and facilitates the campaign against ISIS. Trump’s State Department, though, apparently did know this, and Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, expressed the hope that Qatar’s antagonists would lift the trade and travel blockade they’d imposed on the country. The blockade remains largely in place.

Otaiba usually prefers to keep out of the media spotlight. But in an interview with us, he set out to explain what precipitated the break with Qatar. “This is not the first rodeo,” he says. “We went through this in November of 2014”—when the Saudis and Emiratis withdrew their ambassadors for eight months—and “we had the same exact concerns and grievances.” Back then, relations were restored when Qatar signed on to a list of principles Otaiba says resembles the current set of demands; the demands are more detailed and onerous now, he says, because Qatar broke the 2014 agreement.

Still, he says the break in relations and the impasse over restoring them does not represent a crisis. Qatar seems poised to endure it; economists who spoke to Bloomberg News recently noted, in the news organization’s words, that “Qatar has absorbed the embargo’s economic shock”—to such an extent that its rate of economic growth next year is expected to be the highest among the GCC countries. (This is due in part to the gas deposit it shares with Iran.)

“We’re three months in now,” Otaiba says, “and I’m more convinced than ever that [the Qataris] are not serious about sitting down and having a conversation about how this gets resolved.” Of Qatar’s leader, who took power from his father in 2013, Otaiba speculated: “This is just my opinion, that perhaps Emir Tamim is not fully in charge. It’s possible his parents continue to call the shots in Qatar.”

Otaiba sees the two biggest threats to his country and the region as being Iran and extremist groups. “Iran is a sovereign state,” he says. “You see that their behavior is harming the region, you see that their support for terrorist and proxy groups is destabilizing the region. Sunni extremism comes from within. Sunni extremism attempts to hijack our religion and then use it for political reasons to gain power, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, like Hamas in Palestine. These groups hide behind religion but use religion for political purposes. So the two threats are very, very serious, they just manifest themselves differently.”

A condensed and edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Read the rest:


Accused of funding terrorism and being too cozy with Iran, Qatar says it has done no wrong

August 28, 2017

The Los Angeles Times

The tiny gas-rich nation of Qatar has been ostracized by its regional Arab neighbors, which accuse it of funding terrorism and being too cozy with Iran.

In June, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic and trade ties, closed their air routes to Qatari aircraft and served the government with a host of demands aimed at fighting terrorism and extremism. Mauritius, Mauritania, Yemen, the Maldives and one of Libya’s two warring governments also suspended diplomatic relations.

Qatar did little to quell the conflict last week when it announced it was restoring full diplomatic relations with Iran, more than a year after it pulled its ambassador in a show of solidarity with Saudi Arabia, whose embassy and diplomatic missions in Iran were attacked.

Qatari officials say their country has done no wrong and that a statement by the country’s emir that became a pretext for the row — he was quoted on Qatar news sites as praising Iran and the fundamentalist group Hamas — was fabricated in a hacking attack. Qatar blamed the Emirates, which has denied it.

“Qatar does not fund terrorism whatsoever — no groups, no individuals. Not from afar or from a close distance,” Sheik Saif bin Ahmed al Thani, director of the government communications office, said in an interview with The Times’ editorial board and reporters.

His comments have been edited for length and clarity.

President Trump and Qatar's Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al Thani during a bilateral meeting at a hotel in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in May 2017.
President Trump and Qatar’s Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al Thani during a bilateral meeting at a hotel in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in May 2017. (Mandel Ngan / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images)

Why do these countries want to pick a fight with Qatar and why now?

I can answer what we think it is. We have differences in opinion. That is the main issue. Differences of opinion. We do not support parties or individuals or get involved in [the] domestic affairs [of other countries].

So when we get involved in Tunisia, or Syria … or Libya, we do not go around and pick a party or [an] individual.… We usually focus our attention on the public and try our best not to pick sides.

They accuse us of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. For example in Tunisia, after the Arab Spring, the government that came into office was from the Muslim Brotherhood. We worked with them once they became the government. We didn’t work with them as a party. We worked with them as a government, to support them.

After that, the opposition party won…. [And] we are the ones working with them. We did a conference last year in support of Tunisia, supporting investment. We established a fund for small and medium businesses.

How do you characterize your relationship with Hamas?

The Bush administration supported the elections in Palestine. They wanted to ensure the participation of all different entities in the election. And it was requested of us that Hamas participates.

Arab countries did not support the idea of elections. The U.S. wanted all Arabic countries to support the elections. So we took the lead on that. And other countries came in afterward.

So Hamas won the election. Hamas keeps a fraction of a political office in [the Qatari capital] Doha. Our funding to Palestine is all done through the United Nations and it is done for certain projects. [It’s] funding for building the infrastructure. We have a commitment of about $1.2 billion dollars for rebuilding Gaza. In a few cases we have given salaries to the government in Gaza. The few times that happened, it happened through the U.N. in coordination with Israel.

So whether it’s money, or whether it’s building materials, it all goes through the U.N. and through our governmental structure, except the three or four times when we paid salaries and that was paid through the Palestinian Authority with the U.N.

In June, Qatar's National Human Rights Committee reported that it had been receiving a hundred complaints a day since the blockade by four Arab nations started June 5.
In June, Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee reported that it had been receiving a hundred complaints a day since the blockade by four Arab nations started June 5. (Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times)

Does Qatar have any relationship now with the Muslim Brotherhood?

We don’t have a relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. All of these accusations came because of Egypt. You know, when the Arab Spring happened, when the military was in control, we started supporting Egypt economically.

We had cash placed in their central bank. We committed to five shipments of gas free of charge, and other things. These commitments started before [President Mohamed] Morsi came into power and they continued after he left. The last shipment of gas was at the end of 2016.

We didn’t stop [them] because these commitments were from us to the people of Egypt. So we don’t really care who’s in office. Other than that, we do not support the Muslim Brotherhood.

Morsi lost power in a coup. So it sounds like your government doesn’t care how a government changes.

We deal with what the people choose.

A coup isn’t the people’s choice.

Yes, but we will not get involved internally.

But by dealing with an illegitimate government that came to power via coup aren’t you de facto getting involved?

I get your point. But in the end, we won’t deal with domestic matters. To us, what’s happening in Egypt is a domestic matter. The people chose not to do anything about it. So … we’ll go with their choice.

So if the Muslim Brotherhood rose and took power back your policies would be the same toward Egypt?


What about claims Qatar paid billions of dollars to Iran and Al Qaeda-linked affiliates to secure the release of Qatari hostages that were held in Iraq?

The money was not given to any terrorist groups. While we were trying to get [the hostages] out, we did approach Iran. We approached any government that could help influence these groups to get them out.

Everything was done with the knowledge, and in partnership with, the Iraqi government, with the Iraqi intelligence and security.

What’s it going to take to resolve the crisis?

What it’s going to take is first to remove the blockade. This is not a way of bullying a country into taking a certain position.

And secondly we’re willing to sit and negotiate and sit in a dialogue environment and discuss all these things. Of course anything that will affect our sovereignty and independence, we will not consider, even slightly. We will not sit at the table unless we have a sort of level playing field. But we’re willing to discuss. At the end of the day most of these things are differences of opinion and we can discuss them.

What’s Qatar’s relationship with the Trump administration?

Broadly, the relationship between the U.S. and Qatar is a very strategic, strong relationship. It has always been strong. After Sept. 11, the U.S. military left Saudi Arabia for domestic reasons. They just moved everything to Qatar and we gave them our main and only airport as a base, until the current base was ready.

So our relationship with the U.S. is very institutional. We have a good relationship with the Trump administration, as we did with the Obama administration, and the Bush administration, and so on.

So you don’t take offense that President Trump sometimes comes across as being anti-Muslim?

I do not know if it’s correct to put it that way. The U.S.-Riyadh summit [in Saudi Arabia last May] was indeed successful. It had all the Muslim Arab countries there. We are the only country that has taken further steps with the counter-terrorism [agreement] we signed. It’s the first of its kind for the region. So I don’t really agree with your point [that Trump is anti-Muslim].

FOR THE RECORD, Aug. 27 2 p.m: An earlier version of this article incorrectly phrased a question as saying that Mohamed Morsi gained power in a coup. He lost power in a coup.

For more on global development news, see our Global Development Watch page, and follow me @AMSimmons1 on Twitter

Trump Administration Calls Out Egypt on Human Rights

August 23, 2017

CAIRO — Washington’s surprise decision this week to cut or delay nearly $300 million in aid to Egypt is the first time the Trump administration has publicly called out Cairo on its poor human rights record.

It was also the latest twist in a decades-old relationship marked by dependence and disappointment on both sides.

Milestones in Egypt’s relations with the United States:



The young Egyptian officers who seized power in Egypt in 1952 and later toppled the monarchy initially flirted with the United States through various channels. But vociferous, anti-Israel rhetoric by the charismatic Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser, coupled with Cold War realities, doomed any hope that Washington could become Cairo’s superpower patron.

A 1955 deal by Egypt to buy Soviet weapons through Czechoslovakia landed Egypt deep in the Soviet camp despite Cairo’s efforts to build its credentials as a non-aligned nation. Any hope that Egypt might still end up on the side of the U.S. was shattered when Moscow agreed to build a massive hydroelectric dam on the Nile in southern Egypt after the World Bank, reportedly at Washington’s behest, declined to finance the project.

Relations plunged deeper when Egypt accused the United States of colluding with Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Ironically, however, U.S. influence in Egypt began to creep in soon after Egypt’s humiliating defeat in that conflict, when Washington brokered a 1970 cease-fire that ended months of intensive fighting between Egypt and Israel.

In a surprise move, President Anwar Sadat in 1972 expelled thousands of Soviet military advisers and their families, arguing that Moscow was not doing enough to help the Egyptians match Israel’s military might. A year later, Egypt and Israel fought the last of their four wars and the road was paved for Washington to replace Moscow as the most dominant foreign power in the Middle East.



Washington brokered a cease-fire between Egypt and Israel that ended the 1973 war and later negotiated disengagement pacts between the two armies in Sinai and west of the Suez canal. Those deals established Washington as a key interlocutor between the two longtime enemies, but it was Sadat who significantly raised its profile as a Middle east peace broker.

A year after his historic 1977 visit to Israel, Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David peace accords, which provided the basis for a peace treaty signed the following year, the first between Israel and an Arab state. Fatigued and economically ailing due to the war, Egypt was in for some U.S. largesse as a reward for making peace with Israel.

An ambitious U.S. military and economic program kicked off — first on a modest scale — then grew steadily in size and scope. Egypt became a close U.S. ally and the two countries’ annual war games, held in Egypt and code-named “Bright Star,” symbolized that relationship. Sadat was assassinated in 1981, but his successor, Hosni Mubarak, maintained Cairo’s close ties with Washington and honored the peace treaty with Israel. His annual visits to the White House for most of his 29 years in office evidenced just how close the two nations were.



Many in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world fault the Obama White House for its support of the Arab Spring uprisings that began in late 2010 in Tunisia and later swept across Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. In Egypt, withholding support for Mubarak in the face of an 18-day uprising against his rule is widely seen as a major contributor to his decision to step down.

But it does not stop there. Many commentators see his support for the uprising in Egypt as part of a U.S. conspiracy to weaken Arab states and plunge them into civil strife, thus benefiting Israel. That sentiment endures to this day, with former President Barack Obama vilified by many and Donald Trump hailed as a pragmatist who values stability over the tumult of unfettered freedoms.



Obama made clear that he was unhappy over the Egyptian military’s 2013 overthrow of the country’s freely elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi. While noting that Morsi’s rule was not inclusive and acknowledging the mass street protests against his government, Obama said he did not approve of how things turned out in the aftermath of Morsi’s ouster, namely the mass arrest of his supporters and the clampdown on civil society groups.

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the general-turned-president who led Morsi’s ouster, was kept at arm’s length by Obama, who never extended him a White House invitation. Obama also ordered a partial suspension of military aid to Egypt in October 2013 to protest Cairo’s poor human rights record and the crackdown on dissent. But with an eye on Egypt’s key role in the global fight against terrorism, he restored it in 2015.

Still, that was not enough to clear the air, with pro-el-Sissi commentators demonizing Obama for denying Egypt the weapons it needed to fight Islamic militants battling its security forces in the Sinai Peninsula and claiming that his administration supported Morsi’s now-banned Muslim Brotherhood and sought to destabilize Egypt.



A new page was turned in Cairo’s relations with Washington when Trump became president, a handsome payoff for el-Sissi’s gamble when he appeared to favor the Republican nominee over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, following meetings with both candidates in New York in September 2016.

El-Sissi finally received his White House invitation soon after Trump’s inauguration and his much heralded visit took place in April. There was no mention of Egypt’s human rights record in the readout issued after their Oval Office meeting, something that led many to believe that democracy and freedom would no longer figure in Cairo’s relations with Trump’s America.

The Egyptian media, most of which is blindly loyal to el-Sissi, celebrated the new “strong leader” in the White House and el-Sissi often spoke in glowing terms of Trump. It is against this backdrop that Washington’s decision to cut or delay nearly $290.7 million in military and economic aid came as an unpleasant surprise to Cairo.

Still, it’s too early to say whether the move will hurl Egypt and the United States back to the Obama days when Egypt’s human rights record constantly soured relations, or whether the “Bright Star” war games will resume as scheduled later this year after an eight-year hiatus.