Qatari opposition to explore regime change scenarios during London conference
London- With the crisis in the Gulf into its third month, and the latest attempt at direct dialogue between Doha and Riyadh resulting in additional tensions, Qatar’s opposition is trying to play an active role in the politics of their country.
Khalid al-Hail, a Qatari opposition activist in exile, said conditions caused by the crisis make it imperative that alternative voices to the leadership in Doha be heard. Towards that end, he said, a Qatar, Global Security & Stability Conference will convene September 14 in London.
In an exclusive interview with The Arab Weekly, Hail stressed that the Gulf crisis would likely extend into 2018 and may result in a major civil disobedience drive in the tiny gulf state, with a “white coup” being a possible outcome.
“Civil disobedience is highly likely, although still far off,” Hail said, adding that many factors could lead Qatari citizens to say “Enough! Where is the solution?”
Hail said the showdown between Doha and the Saudi-led quartet could continue for months as Qataris find themselves increasingly cut off from their neighbours and their families in the Gulf.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir recently said: “We are ready for the continuation of the crisis with Qatar… We will decide whether there are other sanctions on Doha according to circumstances.”
The London conference is to bring Qatari opposition figures together with experts and academics to discuss likely scenarios to end the crisis.
One such situation would be a negotiated settlement based on Kuwaiti mediation. Hail said this is unlikely, however, considering the unwillingness of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to compromise on their 13 demands.
A more plausible scenario, he said, would be a coup from within the Qatari royal family. The opposition activist said military action could occur under certain conditions. He speculated that, if a coup was staged from within Qatar, the government is likely to seek the help of the Turkish military against its own citizens.
“The moment that that happens, neighbouring Gulf Arab countries will not stand idly by to watch the Qatari people, many of whom share tribal affiliations with their Gulf Arab brethren, face a Turkish military crackdown, alone,” Hail said.
Outside intervention to counter such a Turkish intervention “would be, in fact, welcomed by the Qatari people,” he said.
The stand-off between Qatar and the Saudi-led Arab bloc has seen new Qatari figures rising to prominence, with some being viewed as possible alternatives to the country’s leadership. One such figure is Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Jassim al-Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family living in exile in Saudi Arabia.
“Sheikh Abdullah is not a politician but an influential Qatari citizen with great integrity who met with [Saudi] King Salman [bin Abdulaziz Al Saud] to mediate and resolve the haj issue,” Hail said.
He said politicisation of the meeting came with claims that Riyadh was imposing an alternative to Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
Hail noted that, once the haj issue was resolved, Qatari citizens began to view Sheikh Abdullah as a viable alternative to the country’s current leadership, without him having actively sought that role.
Factoring heavily into Hail’s calculations is what he explained as growing popular resentment at the Qatari government’s policy of supporting foreign radical groups. He accused the Qatari government of using political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood as tools to influence the region and its politics.
Hail said the “hypocrisy of the Qatari government is evident.”
“It tries to convince the West that it is led by a constitutional monarchy and is committed to an open society, especially by using initiatives such as the World Cup, which it is due to host in 2022, while at the same time assuring Islamists of its full support,” he said.
“Other examples of this duplicity can be seen with their good ties with both Israel and Hamas… In Doha, you have the American Embassy on one side and the Taliban Embassy on the other.”
Hail said it is paramount for other Qatari voices to be heard and emphasised his movement’s independence.
“There are no contacts with either Saudi or the UAE governments on any level. Zero,” Hail said, adding that efforts by the Qatari government to discredit the conference will not work.
Hail also said members of the ruling al-Thani family and those close to it endorsed the September 14 conference. However, he stressed that the event is not about individual figures but about addressing the problems in Qatar.
“There is a crisis and you have to talk about it,” he said.