Anxious Egyptians began flooding their community in Qatar with calls at dawn today after learning that Cairo had cut ties with the wealthy Gulf state where they have made their home.
Egyptians seeking to escape economic crisis at home have poured into the Gulf and many of them in Qatar were panicked by the latest diplomatic rift, in which Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have accused Doha of backing terrorism.
“My phone has not stopped ringing since 4am,” Mohammed Al-Iraqi, the head of the Egyptian community in Qatar, told Reuters by telephone from Doha.
Egyptians are scared. They have jobs and a stable life here with their families. There is a state of panic
Foreign workers make up around 1.6 million of Qatar’s 2.5 million population, and according to Al-Iraqi about 350,000 of them are Egyptians, making them one of the biggest foreign contingents in the Gulf country.
Egyptians in Qatar are apprehensive and say that so far the main issue is food. At least 40 per cent of Qatar’s food products are imported from Saudi Arabia and photos of grocery stores in Doha shared with Reuters by residents showed empty shelves.
Private sector workers were not worried about deportations, saying they did not think it was in the interest of their companies to take such actions. Those in the public sector were more concerned.
We are at the mercy of the [Qatari] government. So far there are no indications that we will be kicked out but it could happen at any moment
said one public sector worker who did not wish to be identified.
“And then even if we are deported, how would we leave? We are hearing all sorts of news about flight suspensions.”
Aside from the fate of Egyptians in Qatar, the move could have severe economic consequences. The four countries involved have announced the closure of transport links with Qatar, a small peninsula whose only land border is with Saudi Arabia.
Bankers in Cairo began halting dealings with Qatari banks on the instructions of their managers, although the Egyptian Central Bank said it had not ordered banks to suspend transactions in Qatari riyals.
Yemen’s Saudi-backed government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, and the UAE-backed eastern government in Libya, headed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar, have also announced that they have severed relations with Qatar.
One of Egypt’s most prominent business leaders, billionaire Naguib Sawiris, called on Egyptian businessmen to withdraw their investments from Qatar and halt dealings with the Gulf state, his spokesperson told Reuters.
At the same time, Egypt gave the Qatari ambassador in Cairo 48 hours to leave the country and recalled its senior diplomatic representative in Doha.
The move proved popular on the streets of Cairo. One resident, Mohamed Hasehm, told Reuters: “Cutting relations is a must because Qatar, Turkey and Iran support the terrorism that we face. It is a given. Relations must be ended.”
A woman who gave her name as Nermine added: “This step should have come sooner.”
“Egypt has been waiting to take this decision for a long time,” said Egyptian political analyst Ashraf Al-Ashry. Cairo had been seeking backing from Gulf States for action against Qatar, he said. “It wanted Arab and regional support.”