Qatar opts for‘circumvention’ tactics as dispute remains unresolved

Sunday 06/08/2017
Political games. Brazilian superstar Neymar (R) shakes hands with Paris Saint-Germain’s (PSG) Qatari Chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi during a news conference at the Parc des Princes stadium, on August 4. (AFP)

London- At the time that it contin­ues to show no interest in addressing the accu­sations levelled at it by the Saudi-led Arab bloc,including charges of terror financ­ing and support to extremists, Qatar has been focused on international moves aimed at burnishing its im­age and getting outside support to its stances in the ongoing row.

Doha has lodged a complaint with the United Nations over Saudi Arabia’s haj preparations, widen­ing the international scope of the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia that has centred on Doha’s suspected financing of terrorism.

Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee filed a complaint with the UN Special Rapporteur on Free­dom of Religion or Belief over what it described as “obstacles” Saudi Arabia had implemented that could hinder Qatari nationals from per­forming the annual haj.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani announced in his only speech since the dispute be­gan that he intended to turn to “sources of soft power at the inter­national level.”

In what some described as a dis­tracting public relations ploy, the Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain football club signed Brazilian star forward Neymar from FC Barcelona for a record $256 million.

“The announcement of Ney­mar’s transfer to PSG was piloted among the high ranks in Qatar as a sort of communications strategy that would overshadow the debate around all other considerations, namely terrorism,” Mathieu Gui­dere, an expert in Arab world geo­politics told Agence France-Presse.

Reports by Qatari media that Qa­tari nationals travelling to Saudi Arabia to perform the haj would be denied entry were dismissed by Saudi officials, who claimed Doha was politicising the annual Islamic event.

Saudi Director-General of Pass­ports Major-General Sulaiman al-Yahya told the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat that all nation­alities going to Saudi Arabia for the haj were welcome. He said anyone doubting that Qataris would receive all services available to pilgrims should visit the King Abdulaziz International Airport to see provi­sions for pilgrims, “including those coming from Qatar.”

“Currently, there are still Qatari brothers entering Saudi territory, not for the purpose of haj or umrah, but because they have family ties inside [the country],” Yahya said.

The move by Doha to politicise the pilgrimage drew comparisons to actions by Iran, which has called for the internationalisation of Mus­lim holy sites and whose nationals have staged political demonstra­tions during the haj.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al- Jubeir told the Saudi-owned Al- Arabiya news channel that “any call to internationalise (the man­agement of) haj is an aggressive act and a declaration of war.”

He said the kingdom reserves “the right to respond to anyone who tries to turn the issue of the haj into an international issue.”

Gulf sources told The Arab Week­ly that efforts by Qatar to politicise the pilgrimage were part of Doha’s strategy to create a new crisis to avoid addressing issues related to sanctions levied by the Arab Gulf, which allege Qatar has supported terrorist groups.

The Gulf sources said Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt considered the Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al- Thani’s comments to the United Nations, in which he complained about haj preparations, an attempt to divert attention from the de­mands issued by the quartet to re­solve the crisis.

Doha also went to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), claim­ing that the sanctions imposed by Saudi Arabia and its allies were in violation of international law. Reu­ters reported that Qatar’s complaint cites “coercive attempts at econom­ic isolation” and details how the boycott is allegedly impeding the tiny Gulf country’s right to trade in goods and services and intellectual property.

A UAE official said WTO members were within their rights to “impose economic measures if they felt their national security was being threatened.”

UAE Assistant Under-Secretary for Foreign Trade Affairs Juma Mo­hammed al-Kait noted in an official statement that WTO agreements permitted the suspension of privi­leges of a member country in spe­cific cases and those cases had been proven against Qatar.

Kait said sanctions imposed by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were in line with Article 21 and Arti­cle 14 of the General Agreement on Trade in Services.

The dispute broke out after state­ments attributed to Sheikh Tamim criticising US foreign policy and praising Iran were carried by the of­ficial Qatar News Agency.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Doha on June 5, saying that Qatar interfered in their countries’ internal affairs and supported radi­cal groups such as Hamas, the Tali­ban and the Muslim Brotherhood. A list of 13 demands issued by the quartet must be met for talks with Doha to commence, the countries’ foreign ministers said.

“The four countries are ready for dialogue with Qatar with the con­dition that it announces its sincere willingness to stop funding terror­ism and extremism and its commit­ment to not interfere in other coun­tries’ foreign affairs and respond to the 13 demands,” Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said after meeting July 30 in Manama.

“These demands are not nego­tiable. We cannot shrink [the list] down,” Jubeir added.