CAIRO (AP) — Egypt will hunt down exiled Muslim Brotherhood leaders and seek their arrest, a top official said Sunday, after Qatar ordered them to leave its territory despite initially hosting group members following the ouster of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last year.
The tiny Gulf nation's expulsion of the Brotherhood, branded a terrorist organization by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, signals it is moving to mend a diplomatic rift triggered by its support of the group. Analysts described the move as a political victory for Egypt's current leadership.
Minister of Interior Mohammed Ibrahim said that Qatari authorities gave Brotherhood leaders one month to leave the country, and reporters for the Doha-based Al-Jazeera Egypt channel two months to leave. It was not immediately possible to confirm the ultimatum with Qatari officials, who rarely comment on the issue.
A number of the group's senior members and allied clerics had already said Saturday that they would leave "to avoid embarrassing" Qatar, which suffered severely strained relations with Egypt and other Gulf countries for hosting the Brotherhood.
A Brotherhood member in Qatar, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns for his safety, said the Qataris conveyed to them that they were under constant pressure led by Egypt to serve Egyptian arrest warrants for the Islamists. He said he will travel to Malaysia while other members will be travelling to Britain or Turkey.
He added that the group had started discussing the possibility of leaving Qatar after Egypt's former military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi ascended to the presidency. El-Sissi led Morsi's ouster after millions of protesters rallied to demand his resignation last summer.
The head of a Brotherhood-allied Egyptian Salafi party living in Qatar said that Egyptian Islamists there know the country has been under pressure to expel them and that Cairo has been encouraging countries to consider them just as dangerous as brutal extremists who have taken over swaths of Iraq and Syria.
"Egypt wants to brand the Brotherhood with the stamp of the Islamic State group," Ihab Shiha said by telephone, adding that he himself was not asked to leave the country.
Officials and observers say that Qatar had resisted Gulf pressures to move against the Brotherhood until its ruling emir met with top Saudi officials.
Egyptian security and military officials say Qatar agreed to "gradually" expel the group's members and allies. They said that up to 120 people could leave as part of the agreement, including some facing charges of inciting violence in Egypt.
The officials also said that broadcaster Al-Jazeera would tone down its criticism of Egypt as part of the deal. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
Egypt has accused Al-Jazeera and its affiliates of serving as a Brotherhood mouthpiece in its campaign against the Egyptian government, an allegation the network has repeatedly denied. Its Egyptian branch, Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr, however devotes nearly its entire broadcast to cover near-daily, scattered demonstrations by Morsi's supporters.
Live programs often host Brotherhood spokesmen and allied Islamists who along with the group's members fled Egypt after security forces unleashed a sweeping crackdown on Morsi's supporters, killing hundreds in street clashes and jailing thousands.
"Qatar thought it is better to end its isolation from the Gulf countries and not to remain in one corner with the Muslim Brotherhood," said Anwar Ashki, a Saudi political expert. It eventually became an "embarrassment" for Qatar to host the group, he added.
In March, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar in an unprecedented move for the countries of the six-nation group known as The Gulf Cooperation Council. The countries in the group sit atop some of the world's largest oil and gas reserves.
The three countries linked their move to what they see as Qatar's failure to implement a security agreement which obligates members of the group not to interfere any of its members' domestic affairs or support organizations that threaten the Gulf's stability.
The agreement also stipulated that countries would not support "hostile media" that threaten the security and stability of member countries "either through direct security work or by attempting to influence politics."
Associated Press reporter Mamdouh Thabet contributed to this report from Assiut, Egypt.