Cairo: Qatar is suspending its broadcast of a satellite news channel sharply critical of Egypt's military-led government, the New York Times is reporting.
The suspension of the Al Jazeera Live Egypt channel is Qatar's biggest concession yet to an 18-month campaign by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Egyptian government to press Qatar to stop its backing for supporters of Egypt's deposed president, Mohammad Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The decision is a major victory for President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi of Egypt, who led Mursi's ouster last year. Qatar had been the only Arab state to question Al Sissi's legitimacy or bet against his staying power, and the suspension appeared to indicate that the Qataris, too, have now accepted his rule.
The shutdown of the channel, an Egyptian affiliate of the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera network, is also a blow to what remains of the Brotherhood.
The affiliate, Al Jazeera Live Egypt, was the only significant Egyptian news outlet remaining that had broadcast video of the Brotherhood's anti-government demonstrations or otherwise conveyed its views.
In recent days, the affiliate was virtually the only Egyptian channel to cover a Brotherhood-led meeting in Istanbul of lawmakers from the dissolved Egyptian Parliament who came together to denounce Al Sissi's "coup."
"This is a big sign on the road for the Egyptian regime, the road of building a news system in Egypt," said Diaa Rashwan, a researcher at the state-funded Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies who is also the head of the state-sponsored journalists' syndicate.
Rashwan predicted that Qatar's gesture could ease the way for Egypt to free three journalists for Al Jazeera's English-language affiliate who were arrested last December on charges of conspiring with the Brotherhood to destabilise Egypt.
Each was sentenced to at least seven years in prison, and their case has drawn international condemnation because of a lack of evidence and because two of the journalists are foreign citizens. One is an Australian and the other is an Egyptian-Canadian with dual citizenship.
But Al Sissi, who has legislative authority until the promised election of a parliament, recently approved a law allowing the government to deport foreign citizens instead of jailing them, and some have called it a sign he may send home the two foreign journalists. "I think we will see some good news" after Qatar's concession, Rashwan said.
Qatar had formed a close alliance with Mursi and the Brotherhood as a strategy for regional influence, and Al Jazeera's coverage – especially on the Egyptian affiliate – was conspicuously supportive.
The military-backed government outlawed Al Jazeera Live Egypt shortly after Mursi was ousted, and its continued broadcasts from Doha, Qatar, have been a persistent annoyance to Al Sissi's supporters in Egypt and the Arabian Gulf.
Al Jazeera Live Egypt announced its suspension early Monday evening. The channel will "stop broadcasting temporarily until the preparation of suitable circumstances in Cairo, that is, after obtaining the necessary permits in coordination with the Egyptian authorities," said the announcer, Sarah Refaat. "This is a statement from the Al-Jazeera network on the last news report broadcast by Al Jazeera Live Egypt from Doha."
Egypt still seeks the extradition from Doha of a number of Brotherhood supporters or leaders who have taken refuge there.
Asked for comment on the channel's suspension, Badr Abdelatty, a spokesman for Egypt's Foreign Ministry, said Cairo supported Arab reconciliation. But he added, without elaborating: "We need to mix actions with words. Deeds are very important."