Pressure on Qatar mounts as diplomacy stalls and football scandal bubbles up

Sunday 02/07/2017
Uncertainties. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani (L) speaks with FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the end of the Qatar Emir Cup in Doha, last May. (Reuters)

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."