The oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchies hinted on Thursday that they had rebalanced their allegiances as their regional umbrella group admonished Egypt, their client, for criticizing Qatar, previously ostracized by its gulf neighbors for its criticism of Egypt.
Relations between Egypt and Qatar turned hostile in 2013 when the Egyptian military ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Having cultivated the Brotherhood as an ally in regional politics, Qatar sharply criticized the military takeover and provided a haven for Brotherhood leaders in exile.
The gulf monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are major sponsors of Egypt’s new military-backed government, and until now have pressed hard for Qatar to fall into line with them as well.
But on Thursday, the regional Gulf Cooperation Council came to Qatar’s defense after an Egyptian official accused Qatar of supporting terrorism in a dispute over this week’s airstrikes by Egyptian warplanes in Libya.
The reversal appeared to reflect efforts by Saudi Arabia, which dominates the council, to mend the dispute to unite all the Sunni Arab states against what they see as the dual threats of the Islamic State terrorist group and the influence of Shiite Iran. Egypt and Qatar, which hosts a United States military base, are both participants in the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Saudi Arabia had begun to broker a partial reconciliation between Egypt and Qatar in December, but the thaw did not last, according to recent reports in the Egyptian state media. Among other Egyptian complaints, commentators here have noted that Qatar’s state-owned Al Jazeera network continues to criticize Egypt over subjects like its forceful suppression of street protests.
The most recent exchange began this week, when Egypt bombed the Libyan city of Derna in retaliation for the beheading of a group of Egyptian Christians in another Libyan city by an arm of the Islamic State. At a meeting of the Arab League on Wednesday, a representative of Qatar faulted Egypt for acting unilaterally rather than in consultation with its neighbors, and an Egyptian representative,