DOHA: Mask-clad travellers walk with their carry-on luggage to board the first Qatar Airways flight bound for Cairo after the resumption of flights between Qatar and Egypt at Hamad International Airport yesterday. – AFP

DOHA: The first direct flights since 2017 between Qatar and its former rivals Egypt and the UAE took to the skies yesterday, following the end of a regional crisis. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in cutting ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of being too close to Iran and of backing Islamic extremists, charges Doha denies.

The quartet agreed to heal the rift at a Gulf summit on Jan 5 in Saudi Arabia, after a flurry of diplomatic activity by outgoing US President Donald Trump’s administration. The first commercial flight from Qatar to Egypt in three and a half years, an EgyptAir service to Cairo, took off from windswept Doha airport. It was followed shortly after by the arrival of an Air Arabia flight from Sharjah in the UAE.

The resumption of flights from Doha to Cairo will simplify travel for the large contingent of Egyptians living in Qatar. As many as 300,000 Egyptians call Qatar home, according to official statistics, but many were unable to travel home during the crisis. In May 2020, frustrated Egyptians protested outside the compound housing Egypt’s then-empty embassy. Following the demonstration, 18 repatriation flights operated via neutral Oman to comply with Cairo’s ban on direct air traffic. A Qatar Airways plane was due to also make the trip to Cairo later yesterday.

Flights between Doha and Saudi Arabia, which has also opened its land border to Qatar, resumed on Jan 11. The row complicated regional travel, divided families and raised costs faced by Qatari businesses. Mustafa Ahmed, 38, an Egyptian technical engineer, said he was “very happy”. “With direct flights, life will be easier, especially for families and children, avoiding the torment of changing airports and planes and waiting for hours for transit flights,” he told AFP.

Egyptians in Qatar work in a number of sectors including education, healthcare and engineering. Thousands of Qatar’s majority-expatriate workforce, however, have lost their jobs as a result of a downturn caused by the coronavirus epidemic. – AFP