Tension increases between Egypt and Qatar over Morsi verdict

After the Cairo Court sentenced former president Mohamed Morsi to life imprisonment on Saturday, Qatar and Egypt have exchanged strongly worded statements, with the Qatari government condemning the Egyptian Judiciary's version of Qatar's involvement in the case and calling into question the judiciary's integrity.

The Qatari Foreign Ministry expressed its dismay and outright rejection of Cairo Criminal Court's bringing Qatar into the verdict issued against ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

On Saturday, Cairo Criminal Court sentenced former President Mohamed Morsi to life imprisonment for spying for Qatar, along with the head of his presidential office Ahmed Abdel Aaty and personal secretary Amin al-Serafy. The ousted president and 10 others were accused of leaking classified national intelligence to the Qatari intelligence service. Egypt's top prosecutor referred all 11 for trial in September of last year.

The Spokesperson of the Qatari Foreign Ministry, Ahmed AlRomeihy, said that and the verdict is unfounded, unjust and includes misleading claims that violate the policy of Qatar towards its sister countries, of which it considers Egypt to be one. He refuted the accusations of espionage as "invalid".

He noted that this verdict was not entirely unexpected in light of the direction the Egyptian court system has been moving in over the last couple of years, with life imprisonment and execution doled out to more than 1,000 defendants. 

"These verdicts lack a proper sense of justice, and they were issued on reasons not related to the law but to other self-evident reasons that do not help to consolidate the fraternal ties and relations between the sister countries,” AlRomeihy said.

Moreover, he stressed, the verdict sets a dangerous precedent for the relations between Arab countries, noting that Qatar is at the top of the list of countries that have supported the Egyptian people since the January 25 revolution. 

Commenting on the Qatari statement, Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zaid said that the statement is not surprising coming from a country that has poured its efforts and resources over recent years to recruiting mouthpieces in the media to confront Egypt and its state institutions.

Zaid added that these allegations will not harm the Egyptian judiciary; rather, they reveal the ignorance of those who made them, ignoring the history, integrity and professionalism of the Egyptian court system.

“History and the Egyptians won’t forget those who insult them,” he warned.

“The relations and ties that bind Qatari and Egyptian societies will remain solid and Egypt will remain a faithful neighbor that cares for the interests of all the Middle East, never interferes in the internal affairs of other countries, and maintains the security and integrity of the nation,” Zaid said.

After the 2013 mass protests that saw the removal of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian-Qatari relations became somewhat strained given Qatar's loyal support of the former Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. The tension was worsened by Egyptian suspicions that the Qatari news channel, Al Jazeera, was fuelling pro-Brotherhood sentiment through their news reporting. 

In March 2014, three Arab countries removed their ambassadors from Qatar after allegations of Qatar financially supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Towards the end of that year Saudi Arabia put forward a peace initiative for the countries, which was welcomed by both sides. According to independent media outlet Mada Masr, relations thawed in the period that followed, with Qatar even removing its channel, Aljazeera Mubashir Misr from broadcast, a channel that had been subject to much Egyptian scrutiny. 

In February 2015, relations cooled again after an Egyptian airstrike on an ISIS bastion in Libya where a group of Egyptian Copts were beheaded. Al Jazeera condemned the airstrikes, broadcasting images of civilian victims of the Egyptian military operation. Qatar's foreign ministry condemned the airstrike, prompting Tariq Adel, Egypt's delegate to the Arab league, to accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism.

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