The Guardian reports: Qatar’s foreign minister has claimed the root cause of Middle East terrorism lay in authoritarian rulers, and lack of human rights, presenting Qatar as a more reliable western ally in the fight against terror than “impulsive, crisis-making” Saudi Arabia.
Speaking in front of British ministers at a Qatar-sponsored anti-terror conference in London, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani stressed his country’s commitment to use political and economic policies, as well as security measures to attack extremism’s “breeding ground of injustice and authoritarianism”.
Qatar is run by a royal family and critics claim the Doha-based broadcaster al-Jazeera is more free to criticise other Gulf states than its hosts, but the emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, announced this month that Qatar would hold elections for a 45-strong consultative shura council in 2019.
Such elections have been delayed three times, but pressure from the publicity of holding the World Cup in 2022, and the country’s ongoing dispute with Saudi Arabia, is thought to make a fourth postponement less likely. Qatar is also revising its much-criticised labour laws and plans to grant citizenship rights to some expatriates. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: A decade on, Rawda al-Zaanoun is at last willing to forgive the gunmen who killed her son during the civil war that split Palestine. It has been painful, but she says it is time.
“He was hit with a bullet in the back. He was a martyr,” the 54-year-old said at an event in Gaza city to mark the public reconciliation of families of people killed in the war. “The decision was not easy because the blood of our son is precious. But we have given amnesty.”
Her son Ala, a married father of two and an officer in the Palestinian Authority security forces, was killed in June 2007 after he rushed out of his house in Gaza City, having heard that his uncle was injured in clashes between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.
Since that war a decade ago, Fatah, led by the secular heirs of Yassir Arafat, has run the West Bank, headed the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority and been responsible for all negotiations with Israel.
Its rivals, the Islamist group Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, drove Fatah out of Gaza and has run the tiny coastal strip that is home to 2 million people, nearly half of the population of the Palestinian territories.
The schism is set to end on Monday, when Hamas hands over control of Gaza to a unity government. Although it agreed to the arrangement three years ago, the decision to implement it now marks a striking reversal for Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and most of the most powerful Arab countries.
“Hamas has made big concessions, and every coming concession will be stunning and surprisingly bigger than the one that passed, so that we can conclude reconciliation and this division must end,” the chief of Hamas in Gaza, Yehya Al-Sinwar, said during a meeting this week with social media activists.
If Hamas has swallowed a bitter pill by ending the feud, perhaps bitterest of all is the role played by exiled former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, once Hamas’s fiercest foe who is now a leading player in regional efforts to pull Gaza back into the Palestinian mainstream.
Officials on both sides of the Palestinian divide and in other Arab countries say Dahlan, based since 2011 in the United Arab Emirates, is behind an influx of cash to prop up Gaza, and a detente between Hamas and Arab states including Egypt. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: An attempt by President Trump to break the stalemate that has divided the wealthiest countries in the Middle East ended in failure on Saturday, when leaders from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, after speaking by phone for the first time in months, exchanged dueling, contradictory statements.
Mr. Trump arranged the call, which took place late on Friday, and promised a breakthrough in the bitter dispute that has plunged the Persian Gulf into turmoil and has threatened American security interests.
Since June, Saudi Arabia has led the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain in imposing a punishing trade and transport boycott against tiny, gas-rich Qatar, accusing it of financing terrorism and having overly cozy relations with Iran. Qatar has rejected the charges, countering that its rivals are seeking to curb its sovereignty and tame its influential television channel Al Jazeera.
Mr. Trump stepped into the frame this past week, offering his services as a mediator and predicting a quick victory.
“I think you’d have a deal worked out very quickly,” he said at the White House on Thursday, standing alongside the emir of Kuwait, who has led Arab efforts to end the standoff.
But Friday’s phone call between the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, seemed to underscore only how hard it might be to settle the angry, often petty, dispute. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Qatar said Thursday it has restored diplomatic relations with Iran, marking a further break with Arab nations that have joined against Qatar for its links to Islamist groups and others perceived by U.S. allies as regional threats.
The decision ignores demands by Qatar’s neighbors — led by Saudi Arabia — to limit ties with Tehran and threatens to deepen the region’s worst diplomatic crisis in decades, which has complicated Washington’s policies in the Middle East.
Qatar hosts U.S. warplanes at a major air base and serves as a logistical hub for Pentagon operations.
“The State of Qatar expressed its aspiration to strengthen bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in all fields,” Qatar’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The brief statement made no mention of the tensions that have roiled the Persian Gulf since June, when Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations severed ties with Qatar. The Arab bloc shut down borders, airspace, and shipping lanes after accusing the tiny, energy-rich nation of backing terrorism for ties with groups such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: Qatar played a major role in facilitating peace talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban by opening an office for the group in Doha, a senior Taliban offical told Al Jazeera.
The Taliban official’s comments on Tuesday come as a series of leaked emails from UAE diplomats suggest the Emirati foreign minister was disappointed that US officials had chosen Doha over Abu Dhabi to host the office.
The June 2013 opening of the unofficial embassy allowed for talks to develop, said the Taliban official, who is based in the Qatari capital.
“We got a chance to discuss with Afghan diplomats, journalists and analysts face-to-face on how peace can be achieved in Afghanistan,” he told Al Jazeera, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
In 2016, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international crisis group, organised a meeting in Doha bringing Afghan diplomats, analysts and journalists to the table with the Taliban to discuss how to achieve peace. [Continue reading…]
Ahmet Davutoglu, the former prime minister of Turkey, writes: At a time when the Middle East is in dire need of a positive agenda and a plan to overcome division, ominous new developments are dominating the scene and the forces of disintegration appear to have been unleashed.
The current “Gulf” crisis is just the latest manifestation of this trend. Before considering the way out of this crisis, it is important to accurately depict it, its root causes, and its regional implications.
There have been many depictions of the Qatari crisis, and several different names have been used to describe the nature of the issue.
“The Qatari crisis”, “the Gulf crisis”, “the contest to define a new regional order”, and “the latest chapter of the Arab Spring showdown” have all been employed on various occasions to describe the crisis.
These are all valid descriptions contingent upon observers’ own operational logic. In fact, the politics of naming a crisis is no frivolous endeavour. [Continue reading…]
Adam Taylor writes: In the ongoing diplomatic crisis in the Persian Gulf between Qatar and a Saudi-led bloc, an unusual role is being played by a country thousands of miles away: North Korea.
In recent days, both sides of the dispute have been accused of having an illicit economic relationship with the isolated nation — a touchy subject in Washington, given Pyongyang’s advancing nuclear weapons program and antagonism toward the United States.
Last week, reports detailing an alleged arms deal worth $100 million between North Korea and a company in the United Arab Emirates resurfaced online. Then on Tuesday, UAE rival Qatar was accused of having a “dangerous” relationship with North Korea in an op-ed published in the Hill newspaper.
There’s at least some truth to both allegations. Details of the sale of North Korean weapons to an Emirati company were revealed in a 2015 leak of UAE government emails first reported by the New York Times; the emails showed that Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the United States, was summoned to a meeting with the State Department because of the deal. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) has questioned Saudi Arabia’s accusation of Qatar funding terrorism while the Kingdom itself continues to carry out “terrorism that is killing people in Yemen”.
The conflict in Yemen has escalated dramatically since March 2015, when the Saudi-led forces launched a military operation against the rebels.
Since the conflict began, more than 10,000 people have been killed and millions have been driven from their homes.
“We don’t talk about government terrorism such as the Saudi-led coalition that is killing people in Yemen,” HRW’s Kenneth Roth said at the Freedom of Expression, Facing up to the Threat conference in Qatar’s capital Doha on Monday.
“I am not aware of Qatar financing terrorist groups, but I am aware of the long-term Saudi promotion of an extreme version of Islam that is often adopted by terrorist groups.”
Yemen is also facing a health crisis, with the charity Oxfam reporting 360,000 suspected cases of cholera in the three months since the outbreak started in April. [Continue reading…]
Vali Nasr writes: Over the past two months, even as American-trained forces were driving Islamic State insurgents out of the major Iraqi city of Mosul, the war next door in Syria was taking a dangerous but little-remarked turn — one far more favorable for Russia’s ambitions to regain a position of broad influence in the Middle East.
First, a major gaffe by President Trump helped Saudi Arabia split a Sunni Muslim alliance that was supposed to fight against the Islamic State — so much so that Qatar and Turkey moved closer together and became open to cooperation with Iran and Russia. Later, when Mr. Trump sat down with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Germany, the American president virtually handed the keys to the region to his adversary by agreeing to a cease-fire in Syria that assumed a lasting presence of Russian influence in that conflict — which only consolidated the likelihood of wider regional influence.
With Mr. Trump’s inner circle often at odds with one another and the president going his own unpredictable way, Mr. Putin seems never to miss an opportunity to expand Russia’s presence in the region. That has helped to blur even the longstanding lines of sectarian division between Sunni and Shiite states and to complicate America’s strategic position.
To be sure, Mr. Trump sent his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to the region to sort out the mess. But among the monarchs of the Middle East, an underling’s voice stood no chance of undoing the damage already done by his master’s tweets. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the emir, among other things, had called Iran an “Islamic power” and praised Hamas.
The hacks and posting took place on May 24, shortly after President Trump completed a lengthy counterterrorism meeting with Persian Gulf leaders in neighboring Saudi Arabia and declared them unified. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: For Magdy Shalash, an Egyptian exile living here in Turkey, there is a certain irony to a recent diplomatic spat that has divided the Middle East.
Several Arab countries — led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt — are enmeshed in a standoff with Qatar and, to a lesser extent, Turkey. One major reason? Qatari and Turkish support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that Mr. Shalash helps lead.
To its enemies, the Brotherhood is a terrorist group that seeks to unravel the established Arab order, and not just in Egypt, where the group was founded in 1928, but in countries like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, where the group has inspired similar movements.
Yet, members like Mr. Shalash, many of whom are either in jail in Egypt or in exile in countries like Turkey, say the group is not only democratic, but decimated and divided. They say it has little ability to exert control over even its own members, let alone the governments of the Middle East.
“Us sitting here,” said Mr. Shalash, in reference to the exiled Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Turkey, “we can’t really do anything.” [Continue reading…]
Marc Lynch writes: While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is currently in the Gulf attempting to broker an end to the crisis between Qatar and four Arab countries, the conflict shows no signs of a resolution. The crisis broke on June 5, shortly following President Trump’s visit to the region. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain declared a blockade of Qatar with no evident immediate cause. The anti-Qatar quartet released an extreme list of 13 demands which seemed intended to be rejected.
After Qatar brushed aside the Quartet’s July 3 deadline, the list of 13 demands was whittled down to six. Secret agreements from the resolution of the last round of the crisis were leaked in an effort to increase pressure on Doha by demonstrating its failure to abide by previous agreements. Despite Tillerson’s active diplomacy, the spat seems no closer to resolution. What began with the expectation of Qatar’s rapid capitulation, with the threat of regime change or war raised by influential columnists, has instead settled down into a “long estrangement.”
CNN reports: Qatar made a series of secret agreements with its Gulf neighbors in 2013 and 2014 barring support for opposition and hostile groups in those nations, as well as in Egypt and Yemen.
The existence of the agreements has been known, but both the content and the documents themselves were kept secret due to the sensitivity of the issues involved and the fact that they were agreed in private by heads of state. The agreements were exclusively obtained by CNN from a source from the region with access to the documents.
The Gulf countries have accused Qatar of not complying with the two agreements, which helps explain what sparked the worst diplomatic crisis in the Middle East in decades.
Abiding by the agreements was among six principles the Gulf nations set as requirements to mend relations with Qatar in a statement released last week.
In a statement to CNN, Qatar accused Saudi Arabia and UAE of breaking the spirit of the agreement and indulging in an “unprovoked attack on Qatar’s sovereignty.”
The first agreement — handwritten and dated November 23, 2013 — is signed by the King of Saudi Arabia, the Emir of Qatar and the Emir of Kuwait. It lays out commitments to avoid any interference in the internal affairs of other Gulf nations, including barring financial or political support to “deviant” groups, which is used to describe anti-government activist groups.
The agreement, referred to as the Riyadh agreement, specifically mentions not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Gulf allies have repeatedly alleged Qatar supports, as well as not backing opposition groups in Yemen that could threaten neighboring countries.
In justifying their boycott launched last month, Qatar’s Gulf counterparts accuse Doha of financially supporting Hezbollah and other terror groups, in addition to backing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. [Continue reading…]
The Intercept reports: Not long before a major crisis ripped through the Middle East, pitting the United States and a bloc of Gulf countries against Qatar, Jared Kushner’s real estate company had unsuccessfully sought a critical half-billion-dollar investment from one of the richest and most influential men in the tiny nation, according to three well-placed sources with knowledge of the near transaction.
Kushner is a senior adviser to President Trump, and also his son-in-law, and also the scion of a New York real estate empire that faces an extreme risk from an investment made by Kushner in the building at 666 Fifth Avenue, where the family is now severely underwater.
Qatar is facing an ongoing blockade led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and joined by Egypt and Bahrain, which President Trump has taken credit for sparking. Kushner, meanwhile, has reportedly played a key behind-the-scenes role in hardening the U.S. posture toward the embattled nation.
That hard line comes in the wake of the previously unreported half-billion-dollar deal that was never consummated. Throughout 2015 and 2016, Jared Kushner and his father, Charles, negotiated directly with a major investor in Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, known as HBJ for short, in an effort to refinance the property on Fifth Avenue, the sources said.
Trump himself has unsuccessfully sought financing in recent years from the Qataris, but it is difficult to overstate just how important the investment at 666 Fifth Avenue is for Kushner, his company, and his family’s legacy in real estate. Without some outside intervention or unforeseen turnaround in the market, the investment could become an embarrassing half-billion-dollar loss. It’s unclear precisely how much peril such a loss would put Jared’s or his family’s finances in, given the opacity of their private holdings. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: Qatar said on Saturday it does not fear any military retaliation for refusing to meet a Monday deadline to comply with a list of demands from four Arab states that have imposed a de-facto blockade on the Gulf nation.
During a visit to Rome, foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani again rejected the demands as an infringement on Qatar’s sovereignty. He said any country is free to raise grievances with Qatar, provided they have proof, but said any such conflicts should be worked out through negotiation, not by imposing ultimatums.
“We believe that the world is governed by international laws, that don’t allow big countries to bully small countries,” he told a press conference in Italy. “No one has the right to issue to a sovereign country an ultimatum.” [Continue reading…]
Mark Perry writes: On March 25, 2011, a Qatar Air Force Mirage 2000-5, took off from Souda Air Base, in Crete, to help enforce a no-fly zone protecting rebels being attacked by Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi. Qatar was the first Persian Gulf nation to help the U.S. in the conflict.
Qatari operations were more than symbolic. The Qatari military trained rebel units, shipped them weapons, accompanied their fighting units into battle, served as a link between rebel commanders and NATO, tutored their military commanders, integrated disparate rebel units into a unified force and led them in the final assault on Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli.“We never had to hold their hand,” a retired senior U.S. military officer says. “They knew what they were doing.” Put simply, while the U.S. was leading from behind in Libya, the Qataris were walking point.
The Qatar intervention has not been forgotten at the Pentagon and is one of the reasons why Defense Secretary James Mattis has worked so diligently to patch up the falling out between them and the coalition of Saudi-led countries (including the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt), that have isolated and blockaded the nation. In fact, Mattis was stunned by the Saudi move. “His first reaction was shock, but his second was disbelief,” a senior military officer says. “He thought the Saudis had picked an unnecessary fight, and just when the administration thought they’d gotten everyone in the Gulf on the same page in forming a common front against Iran.”
At the time of the Saudi announcement, Mattis was in Sydney with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to dampen concerns about the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accords. The two glad-handed Australian officials and issued a reassuring pronouncement on U.S. intentions during a June 5 press briefing with that nation’s foreign and defense ministers. When the burgeoning split between the Saudis and Qataris was mentioned, Tillerson described it as no more than one of “a growing list or irritants in the region” that would not impair “the unified fight against terrorism …”
But while Tillerson’s answer was meant to soothe concerns over the crisis, behind the scenes he and Mattis were scrambling to undo the damage caused by Saudi action. The two huddled in Sydney and decided that Tillerson would take the lead in trying to resolve the falling out. Which is why, three days after the Sydney press conference, Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to ease their anti-Qatar blockade and announced that the U.S. supported a Kuwaiti-led mediation effort. The problem for Tillerson was that his statement was contradicted by Donald Trump who, during a Rose Garden appearance on the same day, castigated Qatar, saying the emirate “has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”
A close associate of the secretary of state says that Tillerson was not only “blind-sided by the Trump statement,” but “absolutely enraged that the White House and State Department weren’t on the same page.” Tillerson’s aides, I was told, were convinced that the true author of Trump’s statement was U.A.E. ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, a close friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. “Rex put two-and-two together,” his close associate says, “and concluded that this absolutely vacuous kid was running a second foreign policy out of the White House family quarters. Otaiba weighed in with Jared and Jared weighed in with Trump. What a mess.” The Trump statement was nearly the last straw for Tillerson, this close associate explains: “Rex is just exhausted. He can’t get any of his appointments approved and is running around the world cleaning up after a president whose primary foreign policy adviser is a 31-year-old amateur.”
Worse yet, at least from Tillerson’s point of view, a White House official explained the difference between the two statements by telling the press to ignore the secretary of state. “Tillerson may initially have had a view,” a White House official told the Washington Post, “then the president has his view, and obviously the president’s view prevails.”
Or maybe not. While Trump’s June 9 statement signaled that the U.S. was tilting towards the Saudis and the UAE, Tillerson and Mattis have been tilting towards Qatar. And for good reason. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Four Arab states boycotting Qatar over alleged support for terrorism have sent Doha a list of 13 demands including closing Al Jazeera television and reducing ties to their regional adversary Iran, an official of one of the four countries said.
The demands aimed at ending the worst Gulf Arab crisis in years appear designed to quash a two decade-old foreign policy in which Qatar has punched well above its weight, striding the stage as a peace broker, often in conflicts in Muslim lands.
Doha’s independent-minded approach, including a dovish line on Iran and support for Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, has incensed some of its neighbors who see political Islamism as a threat to their dynastic rule.
The list, compiled by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain, which cut economic, diplomatic and travel ties to Doha on June 5, also demands the closing of a Turkish military base in Qatar, the official told Reuters.
Turkey’s Defense Minister Fikri Isik rejected the demand, saying any call for the base to be shut would represent interference in Ankara’s relations with Doha. He suggested instead that Turkey might bolster its presence.
“Strengthening the Turkish base would be a positive step in terms of the Gulf’s security,” he said. “Re-evaluating the base agreement with Qatar is not on our agenda.” [Continue reading…]
In an editorial, the New York Times says: [B]y attacking Al Jazeera, the Saudis and their neighbors are trying to eliminate a voice that could lead citizens to question their rulers. Al Jazeera was the prime source of news as the Arab Spring rocked the Middle East in 2011.
That uprising ousted the military-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak and led to Egypt’s first free election, which brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. A loose political network founded in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has renounced violence. The real reason it’s been labeled a terrorist group is that autocratic regimes see it as a populist threat. [Continue reading…]
For CNBC, Abid Ali writes: Al-Jazeera has been a constant thorn in the side of its neighbors. The news network was the first independent media network in the Middle East winning plaudits with more than 20 years of broadcasting. But after the Arab Spring, Doha was forced to tone down coverage to maintain stability in neighboring countries, especially in Bahrain.
Qatar has been forging an independent foreign policy since the discovery of gas and a palace coup where the former Emir ousted his pro-Saudi leaning father. Since 1995 the country has been on a tear with a construction boom reshaping the desert state. While Qataris are the world’s richest per capita ($130,000), in neighboring Saudi Arabia more than 35 percent live under the national poverty line.
“The State of Qatar recognizes that a decision to close Al-Jazeera will infringe on their sovereignty,” Wadah Khanfar, the former director general of Al-Jazeera, told CNBC in a phone interview. “The independence of the state is at risk. If they move against Al-Jazeera what next? They will stand firm.” [Continue reading…]