Beijing Olympics serve as venue for Middle East leaders to meet

Among the leaders from the region who are attending are key figures from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia

A man is reflected in a mirror as he walks past the logo of the Beijing 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China, November 30, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/THOMAS PETER)
A man is reflected in a mirror as he walks past the logo of the Beijing 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China, November 30, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/THOMAS PETER)

Videos and reports circulating online show that the Olympics in Beijing have also been a platform for meetings between various leaders from the Middle East who are attending.

Among the leaders from the region who are attending are key figures from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a major trading partner with China, as are the other Gulf states. Until recently there were strong tensions between Qatar and Egypt, as well as between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but China appears to be a venue where these states can meet. 

Egypt Today reported that “President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met with Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the 24th Winter Olympics  Beijing on Friday. President Sisi and the Emir of Qatar, along with other Arab leaders, are visiting Beijing for participation in the opening ceremony of the 24th Winter Olympics upon the Chinese President’s invitation.”

The leaders had met in August 2021 to push for reconciliation. “On June 15, 2021, President Sisi sent an invitation to Prince Tamim to visit Egypt at the earliest opportunity, according to a statement by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The invitation was sent by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Doha,” Egypt Today said. 

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, also attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing on Friday, according to The National, a UAE newspaper.

 People are pictured at the Main Press Centre ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing (credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH) People are pictured at the Main Press Centre ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing (credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)

"I was honored to attend the spectacular opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing," he said in a tweet. “I wish the organizers and competitors every success for the Games, which embody the power of sport to promote understanding and friendship among the people of the world." 

Roi Kais of Israel’s Channel 11 also noted on Twitter that a video from China showed “Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, and the Emir Qatar, Sheikh Tamim, at a meeting on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. I do not remember a face-to-face meeting between the two since the boycott of Qatar in 2017.” 

The meetings between leaders from Qatar, the UAE and Egypt are important and symbolic, showing how these countries are healing the tensions that occurred after 2017.

They are able to meet more freely in China perhaps, than in the Middle East, and this Olympics venue may lead to more important discussions that can affect the Middle East in the future. Key people in Egypt, the UAE and Qatar are watching these meetings closely.  

This matters because Qatar’s Emir also recently met with US President Joe Biden. Biden supports Qatar becoming a “major non-NATO ally" for the United States. This could upgrade defense ties and arms sales for Qatar. Meanwhile, Qatar is a key venue for the Taliban, who were hosted there until they returned to power and Qatar works with both Iran and China. It remains to be seen what other important meetings may happen. 

Saudi Arabia is marking its first-time participating in the Winter Olympic Games since its start in 1924, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said on Friday, and Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, Minister of Sports and President of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee is present in China.

It is unclear if higher-level Saudi leaders will attend, however. Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US is also present, among other officials, the Saudi media said.

“Filled with pride as I witness the first-ever Saudi Winter Olympics Team at the opening ceremony in Beijing today! They inspire us by proving that there is no limit to their ambition,” wrote the Princess.

This matters because she is the ambassador to the US and her presence at the Olympics is symbolic, while the US is pushing a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing winter games. Meanwhile, many other countries see the winter sporting event as an opportunity to work together and form closer bonds with China.