Qatari media campaigns go on despite Gulf reconciliation agreement

Qatar’s foreign minister: There are no concessions for anyone, and no pressure on Al Jazeera.
Friday 08/01/2021
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani signing GCC summit documents in the Saudi city of Al-Ula, January 5, 2021. (AFP)
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani signing GCC summit documents in the Saudi city of Al-Ula, January 5, 2021. (AFP)

DOHA – Gulf political sources see in the continued targeting of the UAE by Qatar's Al Jazeera channel an indication of Doha's agenda in dealing with the four boycotting countries.

This agenda seems based on different criteria unbound by Qatar's commitment to confidence-building measures stipulated in the reconciliation agreement.

The sources said that the Qatari channel continued to attack the UAE and its role in Yemen, reinforcing speculation about Doha’s lack of interest in changing its attitude on the main issues of disagreement, especially towards the Yemeni file, which the sources describe as the most difficult test of Doha’s seriousness about Gulf reconciliation.

Followers of Gulf affairs have raised questions about Doha's commitment to the essence of reconciliation as it does not seem intent on implementing the first clause, which requires it to stop incitement in media channels its owns, such as Al Jazeera.

Some of the channel's reporters have continued to assail leaders of the four boycotting countries even during Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani's presence at the Al-Ula summit in Saudi Arabia.

Observers were surprised by Al Jazeera's re-broadcast of a report that distorts the UAE's role in backing the joint resistance forces on Yemen's western coast. The channel tried to show the role as driven by a hidden agenda, even though it is part of the Saudi-led Arab coalition's effort to confront Iranian designs.

Al Jazeera first removed the programme from its social media account, before rebroadcasting it, reflecting a state of confusion in Qatar's media system and Doha's lack of adherence to the new transformation required by the Gulf reconciliation deal.

Some observers did not rule out that this media escalation could be intended to convey a message that Doha is not committed to changing its editorial line towards the boycotting countries.

Commenting on Qatari media's continued attacks on the UAE, Kuwaiti political researcher and head of the Gulf Forum for Security and Peace, Fahd Alshelaimi, referred to what he called "the big fall of Al-Jazeera, just one day after the success of the 41st Gulf Summit in Al-Ula."

Shulaimi wrote on Twitter that “Al-Jazeera violates the Al-Ula statement and the Gulf Cooperation Council’s statement through false and toxic information,” as  it "attacks the Emirati role in liberating the southern provinces of Yemen."

Journalist Jamal Al-Harbi wrote, “We were hoping that ink would dry up in the Al-Ula Agreement before Qatar pointed its media weapons towards us! Does anyone think this is the behaviour of a country that desires reconciliation?"

While the Qatar media machine stopped attacking Saudi Arabia after the warm welcome extended to the Qatari emir by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz at the summit, Qatari media continued to broadcast materialhostile to Egypt and the UAE.

Gulf sources see it likely that Doha would play in the coming period on multiple tracks seeking rapprochement with Riyadh while marginalising Cairo, ignoring Manama and engaging in a single confrontation with Abu Dhabi.  This policy seems primarily aimed at sowing disunity in the ranks of the Arab quartet alliance, which was able to contain its destructive activities in the region.

Doha seeks to appear as the victor in a battle against the four boycotting countries, in the absence of any information about the nature of the commitments it has made. Qatari officials denied that they had committed to closing Al Jazeera or introducing any changes in their relationship with Turkey and Iran.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said in an interview with the Financial Times that his country will not alter its relations with Iran and Turkey, and that it has not made concessions to anyone.

He stressed that there will be no change with regard to Al Jazeera, which suggests that Qatar wants to take only what it sees as gains from the summit but will not put in place any controls or safeguards to de-escalate conflicts with the concerned countries.

Political sources believe the next few days will show the extent of Qatar's commitment to the provisions of reconciliation and test its seriousness about stopping political and media escalation and freezing its direct and indirect support for radical groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Houthi militias in Yemen.

In recent years, Doha has dealt with the Yemeni file separately, keeping its distance from the common vision of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It all started with Qatari mediation between the government and the Houthis in 2007 and accompanying talk about Doha's involvement in supporting the Houthis financially, logistically and in the media.

Qatar withdrew from the Gulf initiative under which there was a transfer of power in Yemen from former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, after indications of Qatari support at the time for the continuation of protests that were threatening Yemen with civil war.

Qatar's role in Yemen escalated after the end of Doha’s participation in the coalition in 2017, as Doha worked, according to Yemeni observers, to fuel division within the "legitimacy" government, diverting the conflict’s direction towards other anti-Houthi factions, and supporting the creation of militias affiliated with the Brotherhood, in addition to its role in backing the Houthis politically, financially, logistically and in the media.