Qatar backs away from tourism chief's comments on visas for 'enemies'

Akbar Al Baker was referring to Egyptian nationals

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker at the Arabian Travel Market. Jaime Puebla / The National
Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker at the Arabian Travel Market. Jaime Puebla / The National

A Qatari tourism official on Sunday said the country would not grant visas to those it considers "enemies", referring to Egyptian nationals, in a remark from which the Qatari government later backed away.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in 2017, because of its support for terrorism.

While citizens from the three Arabian Gulf states were recalled to their home countries because of the rift, Egyptians, who make up the largest Arab minority in Qatar, have remained and comprise a sizeable portion of the country's workforce.

Speaking at an event to promote a summer campaign, the tourism council's Akbar Al Baker said Qatar would not let Egyptians enter the country to take part in promotions aimed at boosting it as a destination.

"The visa will not be open for our enemies – it will be open for our friends," Mr Al Baker said. "Are visas open for us to go there? No. So why should we open it for them? Everything is reciprocal."

The comments were the first by a Qatari official since the almost two-year rift began.

Qatar's government communications office later said that Mr Al Baker's comments did not reflect the state's official policy for issuing visas and that it welcomed "all people of the world".

"Qatar's position has always been clear that people should not be involved in disputes that arise between nations," the office said.

But many Egyptians say that the visa process has been effectively closed to them since 2017, with narrow exceptions made for the immediate family members of residents and for specifically approved events.

Qatar has a population of about 2.7 million but just over 300,000 are nationals. It does not publish statistics breaking down population by nationality.

A 2017 report by a private consultancy estimated the Egyptian population at 200,000.

Updated: May 7, 2019 12:33 AM

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