CAIRO (AP) — Leaders of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood group and allied clerics said on Saturday that they are departing Qatar, where they had sought refuge following the ouster of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the crackdown on his supporters.
Their presence in Qatar had severely strained Doha's relations with Egypt as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all of which view the more than 85-year-old Islamist movement as a threat. The expulsion threatens to further isolate the group, which rose to power in Egypt through a string of post-Arab Spring elections but suffered a dramatic fall from grace during Morsi's divisive year in office.
Former minister Amr Darrag, who was also the top foreign affairs official in the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, and fiery cleric ?Wagdi Ghoneim said they are leaving Qatar following a request to do so by the Gulf monarchy.
"I decided to move outside of the beloved Qatar ... so as not to cause any annoyance, embarrassment or problems for our brothers in Qatar," Ghoneim said in a video message posted on his official Facebook page.
Darrag, in a statement posted on his page, said, "we value the role of Qatar in supporting the Egyptian people in its revolution against the coup. We understand well the conditions it is facing in the region."
The highest ranking member of the group residing in Qatar is Mahmoud Hussein, the secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Rassd, a news agency affiliated with the group, Hussein is among those who will be leaving the country. The agency said they will be searching for another base in exile, possibly Turkey.
Qatar was a close ally of Morsi, and relations between Cairo and Doha have been tense since his ouster, with Egypt accusing Qatar of backing the Brotherhood. Egypt has accused Qatar's Al-Jazeera network and its offshoots of serving as a mouthpiece for the group in its campaign against the government.
The network has denied the allegations. But its Egyptian branch, Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr, devotes its entire broadcast to covering near-daily, scattered demonstrations by Morsi's supporters and frequently hosts pro-Islamist commentators.
Many Brotherhood leaders fled Egypt after Morsi's overthrow, as security forces launched a sweeping crackdown on his supporters, killing hundreds in street clashes and jailing thousands. Egypt has branded the group a terrorist organization, outlawed its political party and shut down Al-Jazeera's offices in Cairo. It has imprisoned three Al-Jazeera journalists convicted on charges of joining and aiding the group and fabricating news footage.
Qatar's support for the Brotherhood has angered Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which view the Islamist movement as a regional threat and gave billions of dollars in aid to Egypt after Morsi was overthrown in July 2013 by then-army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi amid massive protests demanding his resignation. El-Sissi has since retired from the military and become president.
The two monarchies withdrew their envoys from Qatar earlier this year, accusing it of violating an agreement among Gulf countries to not interfere in each other's internal affairs. The Brotherhood is outlawed in both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have jailed scores of alleged supporters of the group. The Brotherhood's news agency Rassd said the decision to leave Qatar was made in part to "decrease tensions with Gulf countries."
Earlier this month Egypt charged Morsi, two of his aides and an Al-Jazeera editor with conspiring to leak classified state security documents to Qatar. The country's top prosecutor described the case as "the biggest treason and espionage case in the country's history."
The leaked documents allegedly included intelligence on military deployments and armaments, as well as domestic and foreign policies. The prosecutor said Morsi's assistants leaked the documents with the help of Al-Jazeera journalists to a Qatari intelligence official in exchange for $1 million.