Ever since Qatar’s announcement of a billion loan to Egypt, opponents of President Mohamed Morsi have said that he eventually plans on leasing or even selling the vital channel to Qatari leaders.
The Suez Canal is a waterway under Egyptian control that connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. It runs between the Port Said harbor and the Gulf of Suez, and provides Egypt with a significant amount in revenue due to the vast number of commercial cargo that sail through its waters. Egypt’s various governments fought long and hard to gain unilateral control over the waterway, which was only won in 1956 when President Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalized it, eradicating all British interests.
The opposition’s claims stem from the financial desperation of Egypt’s government, which is in vital need of cash and foreign reserves due to its $22.5 billion budget deficit. Following Morsi’s meetings with Qatari rulers outlining Qatar’s loan, many claimed that Morsi was selling Egyptian sovereignty for a temporary economic boost.
Egyptians have become increasingly conscious of Qatari influence in recent months, after it was discovered that Qatari individuals had provided media time, political training, and financial support to the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the election process.
It is widely believed that Qatar financed the party’s election campaign and was a root cause of tis success. In addition, Egyptian Central Bank data show that Qatari investments in Egypt rose by 74 percent, and Mahmoud Mansour, a member of the Egyptian Businessmen Association, said that investments are expected to surpass $10 billion in total. Many of these will go towards the Suez Canal, in an effort to establish it as an international free zone for assembly operations, storage, and global transit, Mansour claims.
On another note, the timing of Morsi’s dismissal of important military leaders should be mentioned. Morsi fired some of the army’s most significant and influential leaders one day after his meetings with Qatar’s Emir Al-Thani. This aroused suspicion that the only reason Morsi was able to play the bold and surprising move was because he was confident of Qatari backing.
Interestingly, there are no rumors of Egyptian involvement in Qatari domestic affairs.
While Qatar’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood collapsed in 1999, many influential Qataris retain strong relationships with prominent members of Egypt’s party.
The Suez Canal is an important source of revenue for Egypt’s government, which is why Qatar might desire control over it. This past summer the Canal has seen record revenues, including the highest-ever daily revenue of $19.6 million dollars on Thursday, August 23rd and $433.1 million during the month of July. Annually, Egypt reaps roughly $5 billion from the canal.
Even if Qatar does not seek monetary income from the Suez Canal, there are other benefits to a relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. Friendship will keep Islamists within Qatar happy, and will put it in a unique position of being able to mediate between Islamists and those who do not want to interact with them in the West. For example, it has been rumored that the Taliban will open an office in Qatar.
Some say that Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood is a part of a Qatar-Saudi rivalry, with Qatar supporting Saudi enemies in an effort to expand its influence. The media arms of both countries represent their government’s beliefs, with Al Jazeera widely supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabia continually criticizing Mohamed Morsi.
While it is true that Egypt desperately needs foreign aid and reserves in order to rebuild its damaged economy, there is no way that President Morsi would go to such extreme lengths as selling the Suez Canal. Doing so would not only undermine the nation’s sovereignty but would make him a truly hated ruler. The Canal provides not only vital commercial revenue but is also an important symbol for Egyptians, and one that cannot be taken away.