GCC-Qatar spat showcased in Gulf’s Arab media
London- The spat between Qatar and fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain shows no signs of subsiding, if the actions of media in the countries are any indication.
The crisis erupted after statements attributed to Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani criticising US foreign policy and praising Iran were carried on the official Qatari News Agency (QNA) less than a week after the show of solidarity in Riyadh during the Arab Islamic American summit. The comments led to outrage in the rest of the GCC.
The Qatari government issued a statement saying the news agency had been hacked and that there was no validity to the comments attributed to Sheikh Tamim, despite state-controlled media initially reporting the news as a legitimate item.
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Thani blamed the hack on a wider hostile conspiracy involving the United States.
“It is surprising that during the past five weeks, there were 13 opinion articles focused on Qatar” in US media, Sheikh Mohammed said at a news conference on the day of the alleged hacking.
Besides the Qatari foreign minister’s statements about QNA getting hacked, official acknowledgement of the crisis came via UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash who warned that the GCC was facing a major crisis.
“The Gulf Cooperation Council countries are passing through a new sharp crisis that carries within it a great danger,” Gargash wrote on his official Twitter account. “Fending off sedition lies in changing behaviour, building trust and regaining credibility,” he said adding that patience “has its limits.”
Matters worsened after Sheikh Tamim called recently re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rohani and lauded the historic ties between the countries and expressed his willingness to strengthen relations, Rohani’s official website stated. It added that Sheikh Tamim said: “We believe that there is no obstacle in the way of deepening Iran-Qatar relations.”
Escalating matters was a cartoon carried on the Al Jazeera network website that depicted Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and US President Donald Trump in an unflattering light. This outraged many Saudis, leading to calls in the kingdom for the closure of the border with Qatar.
The hashtag calling for the border closure was started by Saudi writer Mohamed al-Othaim, who also tweeted: “Due to the strengthening of the Qatari-Iranian relations, closing the Saudi border [with Qatar] has become a national duty, to see how Iran will react.”
Emirati writer Hamad al-Mazroui threw his support behind Othaim’s suggestion, adding that the kingdom was within its rights to do so with reasons of sovereignty.
Jeddah-based Okaz newspaper parodied both Sheikh Tamim and his father, previous Emir Sheikh Hamad al-Thani, publishing a doctored photo merging their faces under the commentary of “political suicide.” The newspaper reported there was a “secret” meeting in Baghdad between the Qatari foreign minister and the head of Iran’s al-Quds Force Major-General Qassem Soleimani, a despised figure in the GCC.
A report in Al-Ittihad daily in the UAE carried quotes from Saudi analysts accusing Doha of trying to control the region after the 2011 Arab uprisings via its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood and Western think-tanks it had helped fund. The newspaper quoted Dubai Deputy Chief of Police Dhahi Khalfan Tamim saying: “It is a political disaster that Qatar prefers the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain.”
The fallout from the latest conflict resulted in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain blocking several Qatari-based online news sites, including al-Raya newspaper and the Al Jazeera network’s official website.
In March 2014, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Doha over regional security issues related to Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood movement, specifically in Egypt, but the dispute was resolved after a pledge from Doha.
The current dispute attributed to Sheikh Tamim’s statements erupted days after Trump’s visit to the region to unify the Gulf countries on the war on terror and quarantining Iran.