Qatar's brief stint as the patron of Egypt was a blow to the Saudis, who have worked hard to cultivate good ties with Cairo over the years. As wards of U.S. policy in the region after the Cold War, relations between the two states blossomed. Between 2004 and 2009, trade between the two Arab powers increased some 350 percent. In 2008 alone, Egypt imported approximately $1.3 billion worth of goods from Saudi Arabia.
Once regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and Egypt had found common cause against the Muslim Brotherhood in recent decades. In Egypt, the Brotherhood threatened Mubarak's secular government, Egypt's alliance with Washington, and the peace treaty with Israel. The Brotherhood's mixture of politics and religion also threatened the Saudi system, which claims a religious mandate and discourages political activism among its subjects. The Kingdom's longtime minister of the interior, the late Prince Nayef, famously declared in 2002 that, "our problems, all of them, came from the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood."
Thus, when protests erupted against the Mubarak regime in 2011, Saudi Arabia was one of the few countries that stood by the longtime leader. But the Saudis could do little to save their ally; they watched with horror as Washington abandoned him. To add insult to injury, the Muslim Brotherhood filled the vacuum Mubarak's demise left.
Qatar, a global financial backer of the Brotherhood, quickly began drawing up plans to reinforce the organization's gains. In August 2012, the Gulf power gave $2 billion to Egypt. Then in January 2013, Qatar provided Egypt with $2.5 billion more. In April, it pledged an additional $3 billion.
Doha had also proposed a number of lucrative investments in Egypt. For example, in January 2013, Egypt's prime minister said that Qatar was interested in plowing $18 billion into projects in East Port Said and the North Coast. Additional reports in September 2012 suggested that Qatar was looking to invest in a $3.7 billion oil refinery project in Egypt.
With Morsi's ouster, Qatar has suffered painful setbacks. Qatar now finds itself in the embarrassing position of having to deliver several more shipments of free natural gas just to save face and retain a modicum of influence. Egyptian officials, meanwhile, say they have frozen a deal to buy additional Qatari gas because of Doha's political baggage.
The Saudis have regained their position of prominence in Egypt now that Qatar has flamed out. But that's not where the race ends. Saudi Arabia also now outpaces Qatar's influence among the political and military opposition in Syria.
Qatar was an enthusiastic backer of the Syrian National Council founded in late 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood's dominance of the SNC made Riyadh and a number of Western capitals queasy. As the war has dragged on, however, the Saudis began to gain the upper hand. By November 2012, the composition of the political opposition shifted more to Saudi Arabia's liking. Saudi officials engineered the Brotherhood's further diminution by expanding the Syrian Opposition Coalition to allow for greater representation of "liberals" and the Free Syrian Army. Saudi pressure forced the resignation of Qatar's man Ghassan Hitto as prime minister of the Coalition, and Riyadh has installed an ally as the Coalition's new president.