Pressure on Qatar mounts as diplomacy stalls and football scandal bubbles up
Washington- Four weeks after several Gulf countries isolated Qatar over its alleged support for terrorism, the government in Doha has come under mounting pressure. As US mediation efforts failed to get off the ground, Qatar’s image took a hit with fresh corruption allegations that could endanger the country’s bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hosted his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Washington and met with Kuwaiti State Minister Mohammad Abdullah al-Sabah. Jordanian King Abdullah II, on a private visit to Washington, also planned meetings on the Qatar crisis, the Washington Post reported.
The flurry of diplomatic activity was not enough to end the deadlock, however. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who was in Washington the same day as his Qatari and Kuwaiti counterparts but did not meet with them, said the list of demands presented to Qatar was non-negotiable. Qatar’s only solution to ending the conflict, which has seen important sea, air and land routes cut, is “to amend their behaviour,” Jubeir said.
The demands included calls on Qatar to shut its Al Jazeera television network, close a Turkish military base, sever ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and reduce contacts with Iran. Jubeir said the position taken by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain was clear and required the Qataris to act on the demands. “Once they do, things will be worked out,” Jubeir said.
Qatar is refusing to budge, however. After meeting with Tillerson, Sheikh Mohammed called for a “constructive dialogue with the parties concerned if they want to reach a solution and overcome this crisis,” a statement by Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said. Declaring the list of demands to be non-negotiable was “contrary to the basis of international relations.”
Internal divisions within the US administration add to the problems. Reports said Tillerson is at odds with US President Donald Trump’s tough line with Qatar at a time when the US State Department is trying to get the parties to sit down for negotiations.
Quoting aides to Tillerson, the American Conservative magazine reported that the secretary of state is convinced that Trump’s statement on June 9, in which the president accused Qatar of being a “high level” financier of terrorism, was influenced by the UAE ambassador to Washington and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Doha’s efforts to explain its position to the international community suffered a setback when FIFA, the world governing body of football, published a detailed report on corruption allegations surrounding the successful bids of Russia and Qatar to host the World Cup tournament in 2018 and 2022, respectively.
Hosting the event, watched by billions of people around the globe, is a project designed to showcase Qatar worldwide and to put the Gulf country of 2 million people on the world map.
The new allegations in the FIFA report could spell trouble for Qatar’s ambitions, said David Weinberg of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think-tank in Washington. “This episode is sure to represent yet another headache for the Qataris, threatening their efforts at legitimacy and soft power,” Weinberg said via e-mail. “There is a chance it might even imperil their plans to host the 2022 event.”
The report, by FIFA-appointed investigator Michael Garcia, does not contain proof that Qatar won the bidding with the help of corruption but raises serious questions about the process. Garcia, a US lawyer, resigned in 2014 but FIFA published his full report in late June following the publication of parts of the report by a German newspaper.
Garcia, who lacked full investigative powers and depended on voluntary contributions by witnesses and agencies, noted in his report that Qatar cooperated fully. “Culpability is mitigated by the fact that these issues were uncovered largely as a result of its cooperation,” the report said about Qatar, which won the World Cup bid against the United States. Qatar’s World Cup organisers said they viewed Garcia’s report as a “vindication of the integrity of our bid.”
Still, allegations listed by Garcia are damning for Qatar. In one instance, an adviser to the Qataris reportedly sent $2 million to the bank account of the 10-year-old daughter of a FIFA executive. Garcia also said Qatar used resources of its Aspire Academy, a facility for young players, to “curry favour with [FIFA] Executive Committee members.” Several FIFA officials involved in the 2010 decision have been linked to corruption.
David Larkin, a US sports lawyer and co-director of ChangeFIFA, a group seeking reforms of the world body, says the situation for Qatar could become untenable, given what was known about the bidding process. “The process was rotten,” Larkin said. “Some of the people who voted for Qatar are ethically challenged and have huge problems with impropriety.”
Larkin said investigations by the FBI could yield more details and put Qatar’s 2022 World Cup at risk. “The Qataris are not out of the woods yet,” he said. “Not by a mile."