Gaza hotel tiff highlights power struggle between Qatar and Egypt

As jostling for influence intensifies, Egyptian officials reportedly refuse to stay in same accommodation as Qatari delegation

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Gaza's luxury al-Mashtal hotel. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Gaza's luxury al-Mashtal hotel. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Senior Egyptian security officials who arrived in the Gaza Strip on Sunday were forced to search for new accommodation after discovering that a Qatari envoy was staying at the same hotel.

While the official reason was that the Qatari delegation had taken over the entire Al Mashtal Hotel in Gaza City, with none  of the 250 rooms free for the Egyptians, other sources said the Cairo delegation was refusing to bunk under the same roof as the Qataris.

The Egyptian delegation arrived in the Gaza Strip in yet another bid to salvage the Egyptian-brokered agreement that was signed between Hamas and Fatah in November 2017.

Sameh Nabil and Abd al Hadi Faraj of Egypt’s General Intelligence Apparatus are heading the delegation, which is also negotiating with Hamas officials the possibility of reopening the Rafah border crossing on a permanent basis.

The hotel brouhaha serves to highlight the tensions between the Egyptians and the Qataris, both of who are vying to be the main player in Gaza.

According to some reports, the Al Mashtal Hotel in Gaza City informed the Egyptians that they would have to search for another place to stay because all 250 rooms of the hotel had been reserved.

When the surprised Egyptians inquired about the identity of the party that had made the last-minute mass reservation, they were told that the Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, was the man behind the move, the reports claimed.

Hospital cleaners hold signs thanking Qatar and wave Qatari and Palestinian flags during a press conference by Matthias Schmale, UNRWA’s director in Gaza, and the Qatari envoy, Mohammed Al-Emadi, at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Gaza, on February 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The Egyptian security officials were finally put up in another hotel, the Blue Beach Resort in Gaza City.

Egyptian journalist Yaser Elbehery had a different account of the hotel incident.

He claimed that the Egyptian officials were the ones who canceled their stay at Al Mashtal Hotel after learning that the Qatari envoy was also staying there.

Palestinian sources said that the incident was in the context of a power struggle that has been raging for the past few months between Egypt and Qatar over control of the Gaza Strip.

The sources pointed out that in addition to depriving the Egyptian officials of staying at their favorite hotel, the Qatari envoy had the entire hotel façade decorated with Qatari flags and photos of Emir Tamim bin Hamad al Thani.

Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi (C) leaves a press conference at the Dar al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, on February 19, 2018. Hospital workers tried to approach Al-Emadi as he left, but were pushed back by Hamas policemen. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

“The Qatari ambassador wanted to humiliate the Egyptians,” said a veteran Palestinian journalist in the Gaza Strip. “It was very embarrassing not only for the Egyptians, but for Hamas as well.”

Palestinians noted that al Emadi regularly enters the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing (with Israel) and not from the Rafah terminal on the border with Egypt.

Relations between Cairo and Doha have been strained since 2013, when the Egyptian army ousted Qatari-supported president Mohammed Morsi.

In June 2017, Egypt and three Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – announced that they had decided to sever diplomatic relations with Qatar. The four countries cited Qatar’s continuing support for “terrorism,” including the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now banned in Egypt.

Last week, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip attacked the Qatari envoy after he visited a hospital. The protesters threw a shoe at his vehicle and removed Qatari flags and ripped placards thanking the emirate and its leaders for their support for the Gaza Strip.

Some Palestinians claimed that the protesters were affiliated with Egyptian-backed ousted Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan. The protest against the Qatari envoy was aimed at undermining Qatar’s role in the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinians.

“The Egyptians are unhappy with Qatar’s continued meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians, particularly its support for Hamas,” said a Palestinian political analyst in Gaza City.

Earlier this month, Qatar pledged to provide emergency aid to the Gaza Strip worth $9 million.

The emir of Qatar, al Thani, phoned Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to tell him about the decision. Haniyeh, in return, thanked the emir and Qatar for their continued support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Hours after the phone conversation, Haniyeh and several top Hamas officials were abruptly summoned to Cairo for talks on the floundering “reconciliation” pact with Fatah and beefing up security measures along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

More than three weeks have passed since Hanieyh and his friends arrived in Cairo. This has sparked a wave of rumors in the Gaza Strip that the Hamas leaders had been placed under house arrest in Cairo to prevent them from working with Qatar.

Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad, right, and Saleh al-Arouri, left, of Hamas talk to journalists after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements ended their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

A Hamas spokesman on Monday dismissed the rumors as “fabrications.” The Hamas officials visiting Egypt were being treated with “full respect,” he said.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip expressed concern that the dispute between Qatar and Egypt would negatively impact efforts to ease restrictions and “alleviate the suffering of the people” in the coastal enclave.

“The Egyptians don’t want Qatar to help us, the Qataris don’t want the Egyptians to help us,” complained a Palestinian businessman in the Gaza Strip. “This power struggle is very harmful and will have serious and negative repercussions on the people here.”

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