New Refinery Divulges Hidden Aspect In Cairo-Doha Ties

The Qatari state-owned, Qatar Petroleum, has announced the successful operation of a gigantic refinery, in which it owns a major stake, north of Cairo, the capital of Egypt.

Qatar Petroleum owns 38.1% of the shares of the Arabian Refinery Company, which owns 66.6% of the shares of the Egyptian Refining Company which owns the refinery, located in Mostorod area.

All refinery units are now successfully operating, and are expected to ramp up to full production before the end of the first quarter of 2020, Qatar Petroleum said.

It added that the operation of the refinery would reduce Egypt’s dependence on imported petroleum products.

The new refinery has cost $4.4 billion to construct. It will process around 4.7 million tons of petroleum products annually.

It will mainly produce Euro V refined products (such as diesel and jet fuel), which are intended for consumption primarily in Cairo and surrounding areas.

The announcement has raised eyebrows in Cairo and probably in other Arab capitals, given the ongoing political row between Egypt and Qatar.

Cairo and Doha have turned into enemies ever since Egyptians rose up against Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in mid-2013, with support from the Egyptian army.

Qatar, a principal sponsor of political Islam in the region and around the world, along with Turkey, was infuriated by Morsi’s mid-2013 ousting.

Soon after this political development, Doha turned into a refuge for the leaders and the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s movement, who escaped from a crackdown by the post-Morsi authorities on their organization and its affiliates.

In June 2017, Egypt cut off trade and diplomatic ties with Qatar, along with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, after accusing Qatar of interfering in its affairs and contributing to its instability by financially and politically backing the Muslim Brotherhood.

This was why the announcement by Qatar Petroleum was shocking to some of those closely following developments in the row between Cairo and Doha. The announcement, some observers said, throw light on the nature of politics in today’s Middle East, a region where all sorts of contradictions move hand in hand.

Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum Spokesman, Hamdi Abdel Aziz, said Qatari investments in the refinery had nothing to do with politics.

“This is particularly so with the ongoing conflict between Qatar, on one hand, and Egypt; Saudi Arabia; the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, on the other,” Abdel Aziz said. “Investments and politics are two different things.”

The refinery is the largest investment by Qatar Petroleum in the Arab and African region. Qatar also invests in Egypt’s banking sector and other sectors of the Egyptian economy.

Nevertheless, most of these investments, including in the refinery, were made in 2012, a year of hope for political Islam in the region and Qatari political goals.

The Muslim Brotherhood suffered repression for decades under Egypt’s successive regimes since its founding in 1928.

When Egypt’s longtime president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in January 2011, after 18 days of continual and unprecedented protests, the road to power was finally open for the Islamist organization which was the most organized then.

It won the majority of seats in the first post-Mubarak parliament and then its candidate, Mohamed Morsi, was elected by a majority of the voters who were afraid of the possible return of Mubarak-era politicians to power.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power fanned Doha’s hopes of politically controlling the most populous Arab state in the region. Qatar was also hoping that Egypt would be a springboard for regional control by political Islam.

However, Morsi’s failure to address Egypt’s economic problems caused the people to go back to the streets to demand his ouster, only a year after he was elected president. This caused Qatar’s regional aspirations to fall like a house of cards.

The operation of the new refinery is, meanwhile, a small detail in the larger picture of Egypt’s attempts to turn into an energy hub in the region.

Egypt imports a third of its needs of petroleum products. It has a plan to reach self-sufficiency by 2023. With projects like this refinery, the populous country moves closer to achieving this goal.