REASONS: What compelled some Gulf countries to boycott Qatar?

7 mins read

by Faisal J Abbas

Those who have criticisms of the boycott need only compare the Doha regime’s conflicting messages — one day they say they are suffering and the next they say they have become stronger and more resilient!

It is just over two years since the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt) severed relations with Qatar and began a trade, travel and diplomatic boycott. There are no signs that this boycott will be lifted any time soon. 

Although this rift has endured for so long that it has become the “new normal,” it is of vital importance for the ATQ to constantly remind the public of the truth about how it came about; and to make it clear that despite the extensive (and expensive) efforts of Doha-funded lobbyists and spin doctors, in this matter Qatar is not the victim, but the villain. 

Of course, not everyone knows that, and some may not accept it — either because of vested interests, or perhaps simple ignorance, a common flaw among young diplomats or information officers unfamiliar with the region. These include the former White House staffer Ben Rhodes and other Obama-era officials who bought into the Qatari regime “masterplan” of supporting Islamist groups, some of which are classified as terrorists, to achieve democracy everywhere in the Middle East (everywhere, that is, except Qatar). 

QATAR-BASED TERRORISTS WANTED BY UN/US

  • Khalifa Muhammad Turki Al-Subaiy: Financier and facilitator who has provided financial support to, and on behalf of, the senior leadership of Al-Qaeda, including moving recruits to Al-Qaeda training camps in South Asia.Ibrahim Isa Haji Muhammad Al-Bakr: Facilitator who provides financial support for and financial services to, and in support of, Al-Qaeda.
  • Sa’d bin Sa’d Muhammad Sharyan Al-Ka’bi: Facilitator who provides financial services to, or in support of, Al-Nusra Front by raising funds and transferring money to the group and coordinating contributions to it. 
  • Abd-Al-Latif Abdallah Salih Al-Kawari: Facilitator who provides financial services to, or in support of, Al-Qaeda. by transferring money to the group, raising funds for the group, and coordinating contributions to it.
  • Abd Al-Rahman bin ‘Umayr Al-Nu’aymi: Financier and facilitator for Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Others, such as Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State dismissed by President Donald Trump in March 2018, might have had other reasons for being sympathetic to this terror-supporting regime. As a senior executive at Exxon, Tillerson helped Qatar accumulate its vast wealth in the 1990s, bringing liquid gas technology to Doha and developing plants that propelled Qatar’s share of the global gas market to 30 percent by 2010 (and making many people extremely wealthy in the process). 

Nevertheless, it is understandable why Doha might enjoy a certain appeal; it is a tiny state compared with most of its neighbors, so it can easily pretend to be bullied, and falsely claim that it is suffering from inhumane treatment. But this is a boycott by only four countries, and special measures are in place to reduce the impact on ordinary Qataris. Doha remains free to trade with and talk to everyone apart from the ATQ. Moreover, Saudi Arabia made special arrangements for Qatari officials to be invited to all GCC and Arab summits in the Kingdom, and for Qatari pilgrims to perform Umrah and Hajj. 

Qatar is no one’s idea of Gaza, and those who have criticisms of the boycott need only compare the Doha regime’s conflicting messages — one day they say they are suffering, and the next they say they have become stronger and more resilient! Even early sympathizers such as Tillerson changed tack when they realized the caviar and champagne were still being flown in, lavish parties were being held and hosted by the likes of Paris Hilton, and Qatari supercars still polluted the streets of European capitals every summer. 

To the inexperienced eye, Qatar’s funding and backing of European and American business ventures, progressive think tanks, even football clubs, looks impressive. When millions of dollars land in your company bank account, or when your team wins the French football league effortlessly every year, it is easy to forget that the cash comes from a country that sponsors Al-Nusra Front and other terrorist organizations. Terrorists wanted by the UN and the US live openly and unhindered in Doha. One cannot but wonder if people who criticize the boycott know this. One cannot but wonder, too, how US State Department or intelligence analysts would have reacted if Saudi Arabia had not done the right thing and stripped Osama bin Laden of his citizenship in 1994 and put him and his followers on a wanted list. The duplicity in such matters has always been puzzling. 

TAPES OF TREACHERY

In 2014, two audio recordings provided evidence of Qatari royals’ desire to see Saudi Arabia destabilized and divided. The recordings were believed to be after 2008, since an Arab League meeting the recording referred to was held in Damascus that year.
In the recordings, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, then emir of Qatar and father of current emir Tamim bin Hamad, and Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, then prime minister and foreign affairs minister, can be heard attacking Saudi Arabia and the royal family in a discussion with Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.
In one recording, Hamad bin Jassim says that in 12 years Saudi Arabia will no longer exist, but will be divided into small states. “The region will be facing a volcano. Saudi Arabia will be facing a revolution,” he said.
For his part, Hamad bin Khalifa admitted that Qatar caused a lot of trouble to the Kingdom, and said the Saudi government would not remain the same and would certainly end. He further said the Americans succeeded in Iraq, the second step would be Saudi Arabia. He described Egypt and Jordan as two countries lacking dignity because they coordinated with Saudi Arabia.
The tape was leaked via a Twitter page bearing the name of the media office of Shaikh Abdul Aziz bin Khalifa bin Hamad Al-Thani, a former Qatari finance and petroleum minister who had been residing in Geneva since 1992.

But of course, duplicity has always been Qatar’s official foreign policy. To understand this, and as a Middle East Politics 101 requirement, I urge newcomers to watch Al Jazeera Arabic and compare it with Al Jazeera English. On the former, you will see Qatar’s spiritual leader, the hate preacher Yusuf Qaradawi, blessing suicide attacks and cursing Jews; on the latter, you will find celebrations of a 30 percent discount on beer in time for the 2022 football World Cup. 

So why, you may ask, do some people still see Qatar as the victim? In retrospect, I believe that while Saudi Arabia and the other members of the ATQ were absolutely right to boycott Doha, the manner in which they did it could have been improved upon. The sudden escalation in June 2017 of a dispute that had been simmering for years, and the presentation to Doha of a list of 13 demands, took the world by surprise and helped Doha play the innocent. Had the ATQ presented its case differently, and allowed more time to build it, they would have succeeded in winning much more support than they did. 

After all, there is nothing unreasonable in demanding that Qatar stop its long-standing support of terror (an allegation not only by the ATQ, but also by President Trump himself). This is a powerful grievance, and it was an error to bundle it in with such a trivial demand as the closure of Al Jazeera (I have written before that this was wrong; moreover, the ATQ should have made it clear that the issue was the Arabic channel’s content glorifying terror). 

A HANDWRITTEN CONFESSION

On July 11, 2017, CNN revealed what it said were a number of secret agreements struck by Qatar in 2013 and 2014 with its Gulf neighbors prohibiting it from offering support for opposition and hostile groups in those countries besides Egypt and Yemen.
Abiding by the agreements was among six conditions laid down by the Arab Quartet in July 2017 for mending ties with Qatar.
The first agreement — handwritten and dated November 23, 2013 — bore the signatures of the king of Saudi Arabia, the emir of Qatar and the emir of Kuwait, according to CNN.
Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani had become the emir of Qatar in June 2013.
The leaders committed themselves to avoiding interference in the internal affairs of other Gulf countries, including in the form of financial or political support to “deviant” groups.
The first agreement, or the Riyadh agreement, specifically mentioned not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition groups in Yemen that could threaten neighboring countries. A supplemental document signed by the foreign ministers of the same countries discussed implementation of the agreement and included measures barring support of the Muslim Brotherhood and outside groups in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
The measures were applicable to all the countries that signed the document.
As for the second agreement, CNN said it was headlined “top secret,” dated November 16, 2014, and had three additional signatories: The King of Bahrain, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the prime minister of the UAE. It specifically referred to the signatories’ commitment to support Egypt’s stability.
After CNN published the report, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt jointly announced that the documents “confirm beyond any doubt Qatar’s failure to meet its commitments and its full violation of its pledges.”

More importantly, it was an error for a Saudi source (who I assume can only have been a senior official at the Foreign Ministry or Royal Court) to leak to CNN the contents of the 2014 accord signed by Sheikh Tamim — after the boycott had already begun.

Essentially, this was a declaration of guilt and a pledge to reform, made by the emir of Qatar and signed in the presence of the Kuwaiti emir as a guarantor and fellow GCC countries as witnesses. This document would have been of priceless assistance before the ATQ took the action they did. Had it been published earlier, the ATQ would have required only to set a deadline for Qatar to implement it. No reasonable observer could have objected to that. 

But we are where we are, and many now ask what these two years have achieved? And has this rift not weakened GCC unity? I take such talk with a grain of salt. What unity can we have when there are authenticated audio recordings widely available online of former Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim conspiring with the Libyan madman Muammar Qaddafi to divide Saudi Arabia and overthrow its royal family?

If there is only one benefit of the 2017 boycott, it is that it has ripped off the masks that concealed the truth, and forced the real issues into the open. After this, we either have true Gulf unity, or we stop wasting time and effort pretending that we ever did. 

Article first published in Arab News.

Faisal J Abbas is the Editor in Chief of Arab News.

%d bloggers like this: