Mediation attempt in Gulf states' feud with Qatar

The emir of Qatar at last week's military ceremony in Doha. Claims that he made an inflammatory speech there have triggered a feud with other Gulf states

The emir of Qatar is reportedly flying to Kuwait today to exchange Ramadan greetings with Kuwait's emir – something that he apparently has to do in person rather than by phone. There is not much doubt, though, about the real purpose of the visit. It's an attempt to cool down the war of words between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on one side, and Qatar on the other, which has been raging for the past week.

There are suggestions that after his Kuwait meeting the emir of Qatar may travel on to Oman which has also played a mediating role in the past.

Saudi Arabia clearly expects (or at least hopes) that Qatar is about to capitulate. According to the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya, Kuwait's mediation "will result in an agreement that includes several binding clauses for Qatar". It says the "most prominent" of these are:

  • Stop interfering in the internal affairs of the Gulf States and Arab countries
  • Stop incitement through Qatari media channels
  • Halt naturalising any more citizens from other Gulf States
  • Stop incitement against Egypt through its policies
  • Stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist group
  • Removal of persons who are hostile to other GCC countries from Qatar’s territories, especially members of the Muslim Brotherhood

The verbal barrage against Qatar continued on Monday with an article from al-Arabiya headed "ANALYSIS: How Qatar and Iran’s hardliners are very much alike politically". Among other things, this accused Qatar of encouraging "disorder" in Yemen (where the Saudis have been dropping bombs for the last two years and meddling politically for decades).

On Tuesday, another article from al-Arabiya enumerated some of Qatar's alleged transgressions: 

"Several recent events have heightened longstanding tensions in Qatar’s relations with three other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

"These include incendiary comments about Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, Israel and US President Donald Trump attributed to the Emir of Qatar; a reported Qatari-Iranian meeting in Iraq; Doha’s allegations of a foreign-orchestrated “hostile media campaign” against the emirate; and Emir Tamim’s phone call with the President of Iran. Now only time will tell whether this tension will escalate or quietly fade away."  [Links are shown as they appeared in the article]

Although Saudi and Emirati media have been in the forefront of the campaign against Qatar, they appear to have different priorities. The UAE seems mostly concerned about Qatar's links with the Muslim Brotherhood while the Saudis focus on Qatari relations with Iran.

Basically, though, both countries (supported by Bahrain) are trying to engineer a shift in Qatar's foreign policy to bring it more into line with their own. In the words of the Khaleej Times, an Emirati newspaper, "Qatar has always been known for its erratic behaviour with regard to some of the core principles of the GCC".

Previous blog posts on this topic

Blow by blow: the Gulf's extraordinary war of words over Qatar
28 May, 2017

Report of Qatar emir's 'inflammatory speech' was faked
26 May, 2017

Qatar's hacking claim: the evidence so far
25 May, 2017

Gulf rumpus as Qatar says report of emir's speech was faked
24 May, 2017

In an earlier – unsuccessful – attempt to bring Qatar to heel in 2014, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha. This resulted in an agreement known as the "Riyadh Document" – which Qatar is now accused of violating. The Khaleej Times article says:

"The agreement talked of evolving a mechanism wherein the actions of one GCC state does not affect and prejudice the sovereignty and interests of another GCC state.

"Qatar had at that time agreed to rein in extremist and dissident activists operating from its soil and control anti-GCC and anti-Egypt coverage by its media and television channels. But it took no time for Qatar to deviate from these solemn commitments and indulge in the same old malicious propaganda against neighbours which had led to the earlier rift.

"Even though some analysts do not rule out the possibility of reaching a political solution, the terms and conditions of the solution will be stronger and tougher this time and Qatar should seriously try to rebuild confidence that it had breached several times."

The difference this time is that Qatar's adversaries are more confident of success, since they appear to be counting on support from Donald Trump:

"With a new administration in Washington, the UAE is optimistic about a change in US policy vis-à-vis the Muslim Brotherhood and the Trump presidency representing an opportunity to apply enough pressure on Qatar to sever Doha’s ties with Islamists in the region."

Qatar elaborates on hacking claim

Yesterday the Guardian published a letter from Saif Ahmed Al Thani, head of Qatar's Government Communications Office, about the fake news item which triggered the current furore:

"Your article (Saudi Arabia and UAE block Qatari media over incendiary statements, 25 May) lends credence to the idea that fraudulent 'quotes' – falsely attributed to the emir of Qatar and Qatar’s foreign minister – placed by hackers on a Qatari website might actually be genuine. They are not.

"Allow us set the record straight: the government of Qatar noticed the appearance of ''hacked' material on the Qatar News Agency’s website at 12.15am on Wednesday 24 May. Qatar’s Government Communications Office released a statement at 1am alerting the news media that the quotes were not authentic. Most media outlets covered our statement and stopped publishing or broadcasting the fraudulent material.

"We next took control of a Twitter feed, also hacked, that was tweeting the false news that Qatar’s foreign minister had asked the ambassadors from a number of Gulf Cooperation Council countries to leave Qatar. We were eventually able to delete this content and advise Twitter users that Qatar had been the victim of a hacking attack.

"Your report said the fraudulent quotes appeared in a scrolling ticker at the bottom of the screen on 'Qatari state television’s nightly newscast'. In fact the offending material did not appear on Qatari state television but in a doctored version of the newscast that appeared on the Qatari News Agency’s YouTube channel, which had been hacked. The offending material was quickly removed once the hacking incident had been discovered.

"Qatar was the victim of 'fake news', and we have been working hard since the hacking incident to set the record straight. We have been especially troubled by the fact that various news organisations chose to reprint the bogus quotes even after the authenticity of those remarks had been categorically denied by our government."

The remarks attributed to the emir were purportedly made during a speech at a military graduation ceremony in Qatar on 23 May. Although the emir attended this event, numerous Qatari sources – including people who were there – insist that the emir made no speech. The event had been filmed for Qatari television but none of the broadcast footage shows the emir speaking. 

A video of the military ceremony, grabbed from Qatari television, has been widely circulated on the internet but Qatar says there are two versions of it: one shows the original broadcast and the other has a doctored news ticker quoting remarks attributed to the emir. A post on Twitter from the head of Qatar Media Corporation shows the two versions side by side.

The content of the emir's purported speech was largely a reiteration of Qatar's known positions on various issues, including Iran and terrorism. But the timing of the fake story's appearance – two days after the "Muslim summit" in Riyadh attended by Donald Trump – along with what was seen as an inflammatory tone provided the trigger for a renewed campaign against Qatar.

On the same day that the fake story appeared a conference entitled "Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Global Affiliates" was being held in Washington, organised by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in conjunction with the Hudson Institute and the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security

During a "keynote discussion" chaired by Fox News anchor Jenna Lee, Robert Gates (a former defense secretary under the Bush administration) accused Qatar of reneging on previous commitments and said the US should send an envoy to the emir with a list of activities that Qatar must stop supporting, "otherwise the nature of its relationship with them will change". Gates also hinted that the US might pull out of the Udeid airbase in Qatar (built at the previous emir's expense) which serves as Centcom's forward headquarters.

In another session at the conference, Ed Royce, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the US House of Representatives, said he would introduce legislation threatening sanctions against countries that provide support for “terrorist elements of the Muslim Brotherhood” and Hamas in particular. Royce suggested the threat of sanctions could persuade Qatar to end its support for the Brotherhood. “We need to see a change in behaviour immediately,” he added.