by Patrick Truffer (originally published in German). He has been working in the Swiss Army for more than 15 years, holds a bachelor’s degree in public affairs from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH Zurich), and a master’s degree in international relations from the Free University of Berlin.
Among other things due to pressure from the USA, Friday last week, Qatar was presented with a list of thirteen demands compiled by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. The four countries require implementation of these demands until next Tuesday in order to lift the blockade that has been ongoing for more than two weeks. In the highly unlikely event of Qatar submitting to these demands, in the first year compliance with the demands would be checked by the four countries on a monthly basis, in the second year quarterly, and in the following ten years annually (“Arab states issue list of demands to end Qatar crisis“, Al Jazeera, June 23, 2017). In point of fact, this would amount to a relinquishment of sovereignty, and is from this aspect alone hardly acceptable. In view of this far-reaching attempted influence by the four countries on an independent sovereign state, the demand that Qatar should no longer interfere with the internal affairs of the four countries seems almost cynical. In addition, Qatar would have to pay reparation payments to the four countries for the consequences of its policy of recent years, without mentioning any sum. The list of demands clearly shows that the four countries are less concerned with limiting terrorism in the sense of western thinking, but more with extending their regional power, disciplining Qatar, and eliminating oppositional trends and voices critical of the regimes. However, no further consequences have been formulated in the event of Qatar not meeting the demands. There would probably be a lasting diplomatic and economic separation — military escalation is currently unlikely.Not only is there demand that Qatar break off diplomatic relations with Iran, but also that it refrain from military cooperation with Turkey and a Turkish military presence in Qatar. But Qatar will hardly comply with this demands. On the contrary, the blockade has increased the importance of Qatar’s economic relations with Iran and Turkey. According to the Iranian Financial Tribune, Iran has been shipping around 1,100 tons of fruits and vegetables to Doha every day since imposing the blockade. In fact, this is only the beginning: to date, 66 tonnes of beef have been delivered, and a further 90 tonnes are expected. The delivery of large quantities of eggs, and steel for Qatar’s ambitious infrastructure projects could follow. Iran has also opened the airspace, which is crucial for deliveries from Turkey. In the roughly two weeks of the blockade, Turkey has been able to export around 32.5 million US dollars worth of goods to Qatar, 12.5 million US dollars of which were spent on foodstuffs — amounting to approximately three times the exports before the blockade and around 100 cargo aircraft (Daren Butler, “Turkey Rejects Call to Shut Military Base in Qatar“, Reuters, June 23, 2017). Even if Saudi Arabia does not want to allow interference in its regional sphere of influence either on the part of Iran or on the part of Turkey, the kingdom has achieved exactly the opposite with the blockade: strengthening of relations between Turkey, Iran and Qatar to the detriment of Saudi Arabians, along with opening up a lucrative sales market for the two supplying countries. With the strategic support of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar attempted to cleverly utilise the dynamics during the Arab Spring in order to expand its regional political significance. However, in hindsight, this project must be regarded as not having been particularly successful. On the contrary, in doing so it triggered the ire of the monarchs, initiating a challenge to its power. To date, relations with the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have not recovered from this. Qatar’s open support for the Muslim Brotherhood during the Arab Spring, not least with the help of Al Jazeera, led also to a disagreement in 2014 among the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and withdrawal from Doha of the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. According to the four countries’ demands, support of the Muslim Brotherhood should now definitely cease. Together with the Islamic State, al-Qaida, and the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood should be designated as a terrorist group and be sanctioned by Qatar.
How do I reach as many people as possible with as much information as possible? It is a difficult balancing act. Yes, there are things we must keep silent about. But we are achieving 90 percent, and we do not lie. — Yasir Abu Hilala, director of the Arabic channel of Al Jazeera, on the need for a certain degree of compromise to maintain an office in a country; Monika Bolliger, “Der Medienkrieg am Golf“, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, June 24, 2017, own translation.
The other gulf states see Qatar as this extremely rich child that has got all this money and all these big toys and wants to play but doesn’t know how to do it”. — Michael Stephens, Research Fellow for Middle East Studies and Head of the British Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in Qatar, cited in David D. Kirkpatrick, “3 Gulf Countries Pull Ambassadors From Qatar Over Its Support of Islamists“, The New York Times, March 05, 2014.
From a regional point of view, a dangerous power game is developing in the Middle East between the regional powers, with Saudi Arabia (together with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain), Turkey and Iran more or less stepping on each other’s toes. This especially involves expansion of its regional power, primarily at the expense of Iran, as well as the complete neutralisation of groups opposing and critical of the regime in the Middle East — this actually being the second phase of neutralising the Arab Spring and the few remaining groups in the Middle East. The blockade and the demands placed on Qatar have nothing to do with an intensified fight against terror in the region — this reasoning is merely an excuse. A long-term continuation of the blockade could, however, have a highly counter-productive effect on Saudi Arabia. Not only is Qatar benefiting from the situation, it is also delivering the emirate into Iran’s arms, strengthening the Turkish influence in the region, simultaneously straining Saudi-Turkish relations, and endangering the continuity of the GCC in its present composition. If there is further escalation, someone in Washington may end up being caught with his pants down.
- Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) says it will employ the Swiss law firm Lalive to seek compensation for those affected by a decision of Gulf countries to cut ties with Doha and impose a blockade against it. The name of the firm was not revealed, yet. — “Qatar to hire Swiss lawyers to sue Gulf blockade states“, Al Jazeera, 30.06.2017.
- UN human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has condemned Saudi and other Arab countries’ calls for Al Jazeera to be shut down. “Whether or not you watch it, like it, or agree with its editorial standpoints, Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English channels are legitimate, and have many millions of viewers,” said Rupert Colville, spokesman for Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR). Demands to shut down the broadcaster represent an “unacceptable attack on the right to freedom of expression and opinion,” the UNHCR said on Friday. — “UN calls Qatar neighbors’ call to close Al Jazeera TV an ‘unacceptable attack’“, Deutsche Welle, 30.06.2017.
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