Qatari news agency report sparks GCC tensions

Sunday 28/05/2017
Backlash. Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani at a news conference in Doha, on May 25. (AFP)

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.