Angry reactions in the Arab Gulf region as Qatari-Iranian alliance comes into the open

During the June 18 exchange between Sheikh Tamim and Rohani, the Qatari ruler condemned the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen.
Sunday 24/06/2018
A file picture shows Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (R) meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Doha, last October. (Reuters)
Out of the fold. A file picture shows Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (R) meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Doha, last October. (Reuters)

LONDON - In what is likely to further Doha’s isolation, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in a phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rohani, praised Iran for its support and called for an expansion of relations with Tehran, which is considered by Doha’s Gulf Arab neighbours to be the main cause of instability in the region.

During the June 18 exchange between Sheikh Tamim and Rohani, the Qatari ruler condemned the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen and stressed that he was “personally observing the process of developing relations between the two countries,” the Iranian Mehr News Agency reported.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar in June 2017 over what they described as Doha’s support of Islamist terrorist groups and its relations with Iran. The so-called Arab Quartet made 13 demands of Qatar, including shutting down Al Jazeera media network, severing links to radical groups and downgrading ties with Iran.

“I think that the Qatari government did not accurately assess the potential damage caused by the news of Sheikh Tamim’s communication with the Iranian president in terms of regional and Gulf public opinion,” UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash wrote on Twitter.

Gargash said Sheikh Tamim’s comments on the war in Yemen amounted to “a confounded opportunistic approach to support (rebel leader Abdulmalik) al-Houthi.”

Gargash pointed out that Qatari-Iranian relations were at their highest level and have shifted “from the hidden to the exposed.” He also said that stance probably does not reflect Qatari public opinion, however.

Criticism of the leaders’ conversation showed up on traditional and social media. “Tamim and Rohani affirm their conspiratorial alliance against the Arab coalition,” a headline in the UAE’s Al-Bayan newspaper said. Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper ran the headline: “Emir of Qatar thanks the Mullahs of Iran!”

“Qatar was with us in the coalition while it is conspiring with al-Houthi against us and against the people of Yemen,” wrote Saudi literary critic Abdullah al-Ghathami on Twitter.

“Watch out for the literal execution of these instructions,” said adviser to the Saudi royal court Saud al-Qahtani in a tweet. He shared screengrabs from Al Jazeera about the Sheikh Tamim-Rohani exchange.

Despite its membership in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Qatar has seen its relations with its Gulf neighbours deteriorate significantly although addressing the dispute appears to have dropped in priority with the boycotting countries.

However, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of “politicising” the FIFA World Cup in Russia with its commentary.

A day after the Saudi national team lost its opening match against Russia, Chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority Turki al-Sheikh tweeted that “necessary legal action will be taken in relation to beIN wrongdoings against [Saudi Arabia], its sports and officials and for exploiting sports to achieve political goals.”

Sheikh was referencing instances of beIN commentators making political statements during World Cup broadcasts. One such statement equated Saudi Arabia not backing Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup to its backing the Palestinian cause.

The Saudi Football Federation filed a formal complaint with FIFA, accusing beIN of “exploiting” exclusive World Cup television rights in the Middle East to “broadcast political messages with the aim of insulting Saudi Arabia and its leaders,” an official statement said.

An online petition, initiated by Saudis, called on FIFA to stop beIN from “politicising” the World Cup. The petition alleged beIN was “exploiting” its broadcast rights to “aggravate [the] dispute between Qatar and Saudi [Arabia], insulting our nation in the opening match.”

The petition cited examples of beIN studio commentators making statements that it said, “violate World Cup broadcasting rights law.”

Qatar is to host the 2022 World Cup. As that event approaches, analysts said the tiny Gulf country was likely to be more congenial towards its neighbours to help the World Cup be considered a success.

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