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El-Sisi sees vindication in moves against Qatar

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (C) meeting with French Minister of the French Armed Forces, Sylvie Goulard (3L) and officials at the presidential place in Cairo on June 5, 2017. (AFP)

CAIRO: The alliance with Gulf countries to isolate Qatar has given a significant boost to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who over the past three years has been trying to find backers in what he calls a “comprehensive” war on militancy.
El-Sisi’s administration and pro-government media have relentlessly denounced Qatar — a top backer of El-Sisi’s nemesis, the Muslim Brotherhood — depicting it as fueling militancy around the region. Now Cairo has the support of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, which along with Egypt cut ties with Qatar this week.
Just two weeks earlier, El-Sisi delivered his vision of a war against terror in an address to an Islamic summit in Saudi Arabia attended by US President Donald Trump. His speech was peppered with thinly veiled references to Qatar.
“Terrorists are not just those who carry arms,” said El-Sisi. “Regrettably, there are nations that have been involved in supporting and financing terrorist groups and providing them with safe havens.”
At the root of Egypt’s dispute with Qatar is Doha’s support of the Brotherhood. As defense minister, El-Sisi led the military’s 2013 ouster of Mohammed Mursi, removing the Brotherhood from power in Egypt. Since then, Egypt has waged a ferocious crackdown on the group, all but breaking it and driving into exile any prominent members who have not been arrested.
Egypt has also been fighting a bloody militant insurgency in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, which grew more potent after Mursi’s ouster. Egyptian officials accuse the Brotherhood of joining the militant campaign and Qatar of supporting terrorism — claims that the Brotherhood and Doha deny.
The militants, led by a local affiliate of the Daesh group, have expanded their fight to Egypt’s heartland with a series of deadly attacks against Christians that have killed more than 100 since December.
El-Sisi has since toughened his campaign, calling for action against countries that back militants. He sent warplanes to bomb militant positions in Libya and vowed to attack militant bases linked to extremists who wage attacks in Egypt wherever they may be.
Here’s a look at how the confrontation with Qatar plays out with Egypt:
The joint action against Qatar potentially boosts the Egyptian government’s campaign against its biggest nemesis, the Brotherhood.
It adds punch to Cairo’s constant complaints against the Al-Jazeera TV network, which Egyptian officials accuse of backing the Brotherhood and other hard-liners and of sowing divisions in Egypt.
Qatar is unlikely to hand over to Egypt wanted Brotherhood leaders who have found refuge in Doha, but they are likely to come under pressure to leave.
The anti-Qatar alliance also solidifies Egypt’s place as a reliable supporter of Saudi Arabia and UAE.
That could revive the Gulf’s interest in keeping Egypt’s economy moving. El-Sisi has introduced a series of ambitious reforms to salvage Egypt’s deeply damaged economy, but revival is still far off.
Egyptian analyst Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed said: “We are now looking at some sort of a new Egyptian-Saudi alliance that has replaced the tension of the past few months.”
Though it complained for years about Qatar, Egypt only moved seriously against it when Saudi Arabia took the lead.
The most populous Arab nation, with 93 million people, Egypt has long portrayed itself as the region’s leader. But whatever claim it had has been undermined by political and economic turmoil since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
The feud could have more palpable fallout. Though it has shown no sign of doing so yet, Qatar could expel some or all of the more than 200,000 Egyptians living and working in the country. That would cost Egypt millions in lost remittances, exacerbating economic problems.

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