Qatari news agency report sparks GCC tensions
London - Statements attributed to Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani criticising US foreign policy and praising Iran have led to outrage in other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
In the comments carried on the official Qatari News Agency (QNA) less than a week after the show of solidarity in Riyadh during US President Donald Trump’s visit to participate in Arab Islamic American summit, Sheikh Tamim supposedly said: “Iran represents a regional and Islamic power that cannot be ignored and it is unwise to face up against it.” He also was said to call it a stabilising power in the region.
The Qatari emir, speaking at a graduation ceremony at a Qatari military academy, also reportedly criticised the Trump administration, saying that it would not last long due to problems domestically, and praised the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Hamas movement and the Iran-allied Hezbollah militia, QNA said.
An earlier report attributed to QNA and quoting Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said Doha had withdrawn its ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
This and the statements attributed to the emir led to a severe backlash in all of the countries mentioned, with some calling the al- Thanis traitors on social media.
The controversy led to Qatar issuing a statement saying that QNA had been hacked and that there was no validity to the comments attributed to Sheikh Mohammed, despite state-controlled media reporting the news item as legitimate.
Even with the denial, media in the GCC continued reporting the QNA statements as genuine. Consequently, Qatari based Al Jazeera was highly critical of the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya and the UAE-based Sky News Arabia for continued coverage of the disputed statements.
Official Gulf sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that despite the chaos in Qatari media institutions and their carrying of statements attributed to Sheikh Tamim, the reported statements do not conflict with current Qatari foreign policy, whether regarding regional issues or Qatar’s position on various Islamic organisations.
Gulf analysts said Doha expected the hacking story would save it from its predicament but no one seemed to believe it. They added that many of the policies endorsed by Qatar are not in line with the rest of the GCC, despite other Gulf countries’ attempts to bring Qatar into the fold.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries have worked to diffuse tensions between Egypt and Qatar, asking Cairo not to engage in a media and diplomatic war with Doha despite the Qatari campaigns against Egypt and its efforts to impose the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement on the Egyptian people.
Exasperating an already tense situation, statements by Doha’s foreign minister appear to point to a larger conspiracy, while indirectly blaming the United States for the current state of affairs.
“It is surprising that during the past five weeks, there were 13 opinion articles focused on Qatar” in the US media, Sheikh Mohammed said at a news conference.
He said that on the day QNA was hacked “a conference on Qatar convened without us attending while the authors of those articles were there.” He said that the alleged hacking took place the same evening as the conference, asking at the news conference: “Is this a coincidence?”
The conference he referenced was organised by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and called “Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Global Affiliates: New US Administration Considers New Policies.”
One of the panellists, Ed Royce, chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, said during the session that, if Doha was sponsoring Hamas, “then we are talking about sanctions against Qatar.”
A Gulf official told Reuters that Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah offered during a conversation with Sheikh Tamim to mediate and host talks to ensure the feud does not escalate.
The dispute has led to the blocking of several Qatari news sites in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.
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 the following month.