Qatar’s disguise fools no one
A few days ahead of Halloween, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani chose a costume that did not suit him well. In a brief interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” the emir assumed the posture of an innocent victim in the crisis in which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have cut diplomatic ties with Doha.
“Charlie, it was a shock,” Sheikh Tamim said to American television interviewer Charlie Rose. “A few weeks before that (the severance of ties on June 5), we were meeting, all of us together, in one room, including [US] President [Donald] Trump, and we were discussing terrorism, financing terrorism. And nobody brought any concern from those countries. Nobody told me anything.”
Was the boycott really such a shock?
Considering Qatar’s troubled history with its Gulf neighbours, the emir’s “shock” was almost certainly an act. In 2002, Saudi Arabia recalled its envoy to Qatar following controversial comments made by Saudi dissidents on Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite channel. Tensions increased in 2014 when three Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members (Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain) took the unprecedented step of withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar in response to its support for hostile groups in Egypt and Yemen.
Much of the discord has stemmed from Qatar’s refusal to honour agreements and accords.
On November 23, 2013, GCC countries signed the Riyadh Agreement, a document stipulating that members would avoid interfering in the internal affairs of other Gulf countries and barring the provision of financial or political support to “deviant” groups. The agreement specifically names the Muslim Brotherhood and Yemeni opposition factions as groups not to support.
A second agreement, dated November 16, 2014, called on signatories to support Egypt’s stability and avoid using Al Jazeera as a platform for challenging the Egyptian government.
In light of these agreements, the true “shock” was Qatar’s utter failure to live up to its commitments.
During the interview with “60 Minutes,” the Qatari emir claimed Doha stood by the people during the events of the “Arab spring.” “I feel that we chose the right side when we stood by the people,” he said.
Which side is the right side?
When the “Arab spring” erupted, it quickly became clear that Qatar had chosen its own side. This side was not “the people” but the Muslim Brotherhood.
As Islamists gained power in Egypt, tens of billions of dollars and free liquefied natural gas (LNG) were funnelled into Egypt to assiduously support the Brotherhood-led government of Muhammad Morsi. Similar financial support was provided to Tunisia when the Islamist Ennahda party rose to power in late 2011.
Qatar’s claim to have stood by “the people” while providing unlimited support for Islamist groups all over the world is beyond absurd. “The people” do not stand for one sole ideology.
The Qatari pattern of dishonesty extends further: The emir has defended Al Jazeera’s biased news coverage as “free speech” and described Doha’s meddling in neighbours’ affairs as an extension of the country’s “independence” and “sovereignty.” Qatar’s close ties with Iran and support for Islamist groups have been fashioned in similarly deceptive terms.
The Qatari emir has mischaracterised the Arab countries’ position regarding the boycott, saying they advocate regime change as opposed to simply a change of policies.
Qatar, indeed, poses a serious threat to the stability of its neighbours and the region. Years of turmoil and recent developments in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria are evidence of this. Still, Qatar remains unapologetic about its course of action.
What is emboldening the Doha regime to punch above its weight?
Those who saw the “60 Minutes” interview may know the answer: The United States’ Al Udeid military base and the recent reassurances from Trump.
Soon after September 11, 2001, the United States pulled its military out of Saudi Arabia and stationed thousands of troops in the newly built Al Udeid base to help target its enemies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. About 10,000 US and coalition forces operate out of the airbase. This may explain why Trump has had a change of heart. After initially expressing support for the boycott of Doha, the US president now seems intent on resolving the crisis.
Trump “told me very clearly: I would not accept my friends fighting amongst themselves,” Sheikh Tamim said. “If any military act happens, this region will be in chaos.”
Now that the Doha regime feels safe, we can expect further defiance from Sheikh Tamim.
“If they will go one metre towards me, I am willing to walk 10,000 miles towards them,” he said.
History shows, however, that Qatar’s Gulf neighbours and Egypt have walked thousands, if not millions, of miles towards Qatar in attempts to settle differences to no avail. Maybe, for once, it is time for the Qatari regime to stop playing the innocent victim and take its first step towards the Arab fold.