Qatar has rejected comments made by the secretary-general of its National Tourism Council in reference to Egyptians seeking to enter the country amid an ongoing political rift.
In a statement on Sunday, Qatar’s Government Communications Office said the country would not stop issuing visas, adding “populations should not be involved in disputes between states”.
Earlier on Sunday, at an event to promote a summer tourism campaign, Akbar al-Baker, also the CEO of Qatar Airways, had said that Qatar would not let Egyptians enter the country to take part in promotions aimed at boosting its tourism industry.
“The visa will not be open for our enemies – it will be open for our friends,” al-Baker said of Egyptians looking to come. “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 nearly two-year rift began suggesting Qatar would no longer grant visas to people from Egypt, the most populous Arab country.
However, the government communications office said in a statement only the Ministry of Interior and its Expatriates Affairs Department were authorised to issue entry visas to the country.
“Any statements outside this legal framework do not represent the working policies of the Ministry of Interior,” the statement said.
“Our countries will always draw strength from the cohesiveness of our peoples and societies,” it added.
The communication office also said that “Qatar welcomes all the peoples of the world, and that different activities between peoples, whether cultural, economic, sports and tourism and others are among the ways that can bring nations together regardless of disputes between states”.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing it of supporting “terrorism”. Doha denies the allegation.
While citizens from the three 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 make up a sizeable portion of the tiny but wealthy country’s workforce.
Qatar has a population of 2.7 million but only about 300,000 nationals. A 2017 report by a private consultancy estimated Egyptians at 200,000.