Unrealistic demands on Qatar reveal the real reasons behind the blockade

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.

After the first panic purchases in Qatar, everyday life has returned to normal. The missing foodstuffs from Saudi Arabia have been replaced with products from Iran and Turkey.

After the first panic purchases in Qatar, everyday life has returned to normal. The missing foodstuffs from Saudi Arabia have been replaced with products from Iran and Turkey.

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.

Adjustment of the flight route from and to Doha due to the blockade is clearly evident.

Adjustment of the flight route from and to Doha due to the blockade is clearly evident.

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.

Qatar’s regional influence is also to be restricted. In this context, there is additionally the almost medieval-seeming demand that Al Jazeera, along with Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, and Middle East Eye be shut down. In addition to the financial resources resulting from the extraction and export of oil and natural gas, Al Jazeera is an important instrument of political power for Qatar. After all, the news channel reaches some 50 million Arabic-speaking and 200 million English-speaking viewers. But Al Jazeera is more than this: it is currently the most professional and pluralistic news channel in the region (Monika Bolliger, “Der Medienkrieg am Golf“, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, June 24, 2017). According to the four countries, the Arab population should only be hearing and seeing what the official media in the Gulf and the Nile provide them with (Inga Rogg, “Katar will nicht nachgeben“, NZZ am Sonntag, June 25, 2017). The fulfilment of this demand is just as unrealistic as the rest of the demands — if only because Middle East Eye, for example, has its offices in London. The supporting attitude of US President Donald Trump for this blockade casts a shadow over international protection of freedom of expression, but fits his own problematic attitude towards critical, free media.

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.

The blockade imposed on Qatar and the demands are not about the fight against terrorism, but about the suppression of Qatar’s sometimes stubborn, non-compliant politics in comparison to the other GCC states. The goal of Saudi Arabia is containment of Iran and expansion of its regional power. It is using the GCC in order to achieve this goal, and is demanding unrestricted allegiance from its member countries. As in January 2016, the embassy of Saudi Arabia was stormed in Tehran, and Riyadh utilised this as a thrust to engage its GCC partners in a tough confrontational policy against Tehran, calling for the abolition of all diplomatic and economic relations between the GCC countries and Iran (Björn Müller, “Der Golfkooperationsrat – Bündnis der ‘negativen Solidarität’“, Pivot Area, June 11, 2017). Qatar did withdraw its ambassador from Tehran, but neither diplomatic nor economic relations were broken off. Iran still maintains an embassy in Doha, and Qatar one in Tehran. Moreover, Saudi Arabia wants to prevent Turkey from interfering, in particular also because the political roots of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan are within the Justice and Development Party (AKP), a party close to the Muslim Brotherhood. In this respect, the intergovernmental relations between Turkey and Egypt have been bad since the overthrow of the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi by el-Sisi. This upheaval was supported by the Saudis, which also led to a cooling of Turkish-Saudi relations. The slow improvement of the Saudi-Turkish relations of the last two years now seems to have come to an abrupt end – not entirely to Iran’s displeasure.

Turkish armored personnel carrier drives at Ankara's military base in Doha, Qatar June 18, 2017. Turkey has begun military drills in Qatar amid a Saudi Arabia-led international boycott against its fellow, oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbor.

Turkish armored personnel carrier drives at Ankara’s military base in Doha, Qatar June 18, 2017. Turkey has begun military drills in Qatar amid a Saudi Arabia-led international boycott against its fellow, oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbor.

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.

More information

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The 13 demands in full

  1. Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
  2. Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
  3. Shut down al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
  4. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
  5. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
  6. Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.
  7. Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
  8. End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
  9. Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
  10. Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
  11. Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
  12. Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
  13. Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

Source: Patrick Wintour, “Qatar given 10 Days to Meet 13 Sweeping Demands by Saudi Arabia“, The Guardian, June 23, 2017.

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This entry was posted in English, Patrick Truffer, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Security Policy, Terrorism.

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