Political asylum was expanded to include politicians and fugitives involved in political cases and human rights advocates fleeing their country of origin. Under the decision, media correspondents, journalists and human rights advocates who are being prosecuted and threatened in their country of origin; politicians who are members of political parties, sects and religious groups; and writers, researchers, and former and current government officials who oppose their governments are now allowed to seek asylum in Qatar.
The decision raised questions about the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members who fled to Qatar following the ouster of Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013 and the army’s access to power.
Since Morsi was ousted, Qatar has been a major source of political and financial support for the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly since it was a strategic ally of the Egyptian regime under the Brotherhood rule between June 2012 and July 2013.
Magdy Salem Abu Annour, a prominent Brotherhood leader who fled to Qatar in late 2013 before moving to Turkey in late 2016, told Al-Monitor, “Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members fled to Doha at various times, particularly in light of the ongoing assurances that Doha would remain a safe haven for the Brotherhood.”
He said, “Qatar’s asylum decision will be even more reassuring for Brotherhood members. It will enhance their position and will make legitimate their presence and international moves to demand that the Brotherhood regime be restored and [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-] Sisi be ousted; [such a legitimacy] stems from [their status] as political asylees involved in political cases, contrary to the Egyptian regime’s claims that they are involved in criminal and terrorist cases.”
He added, “The Brotherhood needs to seize this opportunity to market their cause and grab the world’s attention again, as their cause will continue to survive with the large number of Brotherhood fugitives being granted political asylum. The rights granted under the decision will help resolve the Brotherhood members’ problems, including those that are financial, related to the difficulty of finding employment or even freedom of movement. This is particularly true since they would be granted travel documents as a substitute for the Egyptian passport that the Egyptian embassies are using as leverage and are sometimes refusing to renew.”
Under the decision, asylees would obtain a monthly sum of 3,000 Qatari riyals ($824), in addition to 800 riyals ($220) for their spouse and each child under 18.
In addition to the freedom of movement and travel, freedom of religion and right to litigation, the ministerial decision also grants the asylee and his family members accommodation, health care, education and a job opportunity provided that it has nothing to do with Qatar’s national security, such as the police, army and intelligence services.
In October 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the Gulf region’s first law in this regard and described it as “an example.” But it demanded at the same time that Qatar gives more guarantees to protect the asylees’ rights in its territory.
Lama Fakih, deputy director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division, indicated in the report that “Qatar’s asylum law is a huge step forward in a region made up of wealthy states that have historically shut their doors to refugees. But Qatar should go further and amend the law so that it fully aligns with its obligations under international human rights and refugee law.”
Speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, a Muslim Brotherhood member who fled to Qatar four years ago spoke of the living conditions of Brotherhood members there, especially those who are not part of the leadership ranks. He said, “Unlike Sudan, Algeria and other countries, Qatar is a good place for Egyptian fugitives to live, particularly since the Qataris sympathize with the Egyptian Brotherhood cause. This makes it easier for them to be integrated into the community.”
He added, “The large Egyptian labor force in Qatar has made life easier for fugitives. The situation would be much better with an asylum law that provides international legal protection and the right to obtain a monthly stipend, as the new ministerial decision provides for.”
He indicated that the Brotherhood members in Qatar are facing a financial problem due to the group’s inability to provide them with regular assistance. He added that the assistance provided for under the asylum law of 2018 and this year’s ministerial decision that specifies its value and asylum conditions and requirements would be enough to ease the pressure on the group.
The Egypt-Qatar ties have been strained since Morsi was ousted and the group’s leaders were incarcerated. Since then, Qatar has opened its doors to Egyptian fugitives and facilitated the procedures for them to obtain an entry visa.
In June 2017, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and the government in easten Libya severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, considering that such rupture comes in response to Doha meddling in the Arab countries’ internal affairs and supporting terrorism.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Mahmoud Bayoumi, a researcher on Arab political affairs at Istanbul Aydin University, perceived that the decision is an attempt by Doha to enjoy the leadership in the human rights space in the Gulf region. He said, “The decision comes in light of the tight restrictions on Islamists and opposition parties in many countries where Qatar has supported the revolutions from the start. When viewed as part of Qatar’s support for the Islamists, the decision would be a continuation of the Doha policies that support the Islamists whose rights are violated in the Arab region, particularly following the military coup that was repeated lately.”
Bayoumi added that Doha took such a decision to improve its image when it comes to human rights, before hosting the FIFA World Cup 2022, and that the decision coincides with the incentives Turkey is giving to oppositionists who fled Egypt to Turkey following the fall of the Brotherhood rule.
Al-Monitor tried to speak about the decision to officials at the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The source who declined to be named only referred to the official statement relating to the conditions and privileges.