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About the blockade of Qatar

Qatar given 10 days to meet 13 sweeping demands by Saudi Arabia

Gulf dispute deepens as allies issue ultimatum for ending blockade that includes closing al-Jazeera and cutting back ties with Iran

The Saudi-led alliance considers al-Jazeera to be a propaganda tool for Islamists. Photograph: Osama Faisal/AP

(Qatar is in orange-brown above)

(Maps are from this source.)

Saudi Arabia and its allies have issued a threatening 13-point ultimatum to Qatar as the price for lifting a two-week trade and diplomatic embargo of the country, in a marked escalation of the Gulf’s worst diplomatic dispute in decades.

The onerous list of demands includes stipulations that Doha close the broadcaster al-Jazeera, drastically scale back cooperation with Iran, remove Turkish troops from Qatar’s soil, end contact with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and submit to monthly external compliance checks. Qatar has been given 10 days to comply with the demands or face unspecified consequences.

Saudi Arabia and the other nations leading the blockade – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – launched an economic and diplomatic blockade on the energy-rich country a fortnight ago, initially claiming the Qatari royal family had licensed the funding of terrorism across the Middle East for decades. Since then, the allies appear to be pushing for the isolation of Iran and the suppression of dissenting media in the region.

What is Qatar’s position in the Middle-East?
Qatar occupies a tiny headland on the Arabian peninsula, with a single land border with Saudi Arabia and across the sea from Iran. The former British protectorate gained its independence in 1971 and has since been ruled by the al-Thani family. With the highest per capita income in the world, the tiny monarchy has grown fabulously wealthy on the back of massive oil and natural gas reserves. Tensions with its Gulf Arab neighbours have grown in recent years over support for Islamist movements that emerged from the Arab Spring. It now finds itself isolated and backed into a corner.

The list of demands, relayed to Qatar via mediators from Kuwait, represents the first time Saudi Arabia has been prepared to put the bloc’s previously amorphous grievances in writing. Their sweeping nature would, if accepted, represent an effective end to Qatar’s independent foreign policy. According to one of the points, Qatar would have to “align itself with other Arabs and the Gulf, militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as in financial matters”.
The UAE’s foreign secretary, Anwar Gargash, insisted the anti-Qatar alliance is not seeking to impose regime change. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Qatar will see the demands as the basis for serious negotiations.

Qatar has become reliant on Turkey and Iran for food imports since the embargo was imposed on 5 June and insists with its huge wealth it can survive the embargo for an indefinite period.

Gargash blamed Qatar for the “childish” leak of its 13 demands and called it either an “attempt to undermine serious mediation or yet another sign of callous policy.

“It would be wiser that [Qatar] deal seriously with the demands and concerns of the neighbours or a divorce will take place,” he said.

Qatar faces a choice of either stability and prosperity or isolation, he said, adding: “Perhaps the solution is in parting ways.”

In a sign that the UK does not regard the demands as reasonable, foreign secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday: “Gulf unity can only be restored when all countries involved are willing to discuss terms that are measured and realistic.
“The UK calls upon the Gulf states to find a way of de-escalating the situation and lifting the current embargo and restrictions which are having an impact on the everyday lives of people in the region.”

US policy towards Qatar so far has been marked by confusion. President Donald Trump has appeared to take credit for the Saudi embargo and described Qatar as a haven for terrorism. By contrast, the State Department under Rex Tillerson has twice upbraided Saudi Arabia’s approach to Qatar and questioned its true motives in sparking the diplomatic crisis.

In recent days the State Department has been pressing Saudi to specify the actions Qatar must take to see the embargo lifted, but warned that those demands need to be “reasonable and actionable”.

On Friday a White House spokesman told the Guardian: “The United States is still accessing the list and we are in communication with all parties. As we have said, we want to see the parties resolve this dispute and restore unity among our partners in the region, while ensuring all countries are stopping funding for terrorist groups.”

The State Department spokesperson also declined to take a position on the specific Saudi demands, focusing instead on the need for the involved parties to resolve the dispute themselves through dialogue.

“We understand the Kuwaitis, in their mediation capacity, have delivered a list of demands to the Qataris,” a spokesperson said. “We encourage all parties to exercise restraint to allow for productive, diplomatic discussions.”
The US has a major military base in Qatar and risks seeing Qatar forced into an alliance with Iran if its enforced isolation continues, an outcome that would be a major strategic blow to Washington as well as a further threat to the security of the region.

Qatar’s UN ambassador, Sheikha Alya Ahmed bin Saif al-Thani, said the allegations that her country supports terrorism are “sabotaging our relationship with the world, with the west, tarnishing our reputation in a way by using the terrorism card”.

She said: “The blockade they have imposed is illegal. They used the terrorism card as a way of attracting attention. But the main objectives are more about criticising our media, al-Jazeera, and our openness.”

Al-Thani added: “We are small, but we have integrity.” She said on US broadcaster CBS that she believed the Saudi positioning was softening, but not that of the UAE. She hopes for a resolution but fears a prolonged chill: “They continue to escalate even though both Kuwait and the United States are playing an important role. We are confident of the US position toward the blockade.”

Al-Jazeera has condemned the call for its closure as “nothing but an attempt to end freedom of expression in the region, and suppress the right to information”.

Rachael Jolley, the editor of Index on Censorship, said: “From its treatment of blogger Raif Badawi to its tightly controlled media environment, the Saudi authorities must not be able to dictate access to information for the public in other countries. Al-Jazeera must not be used as a bargaining chip.”

But the Saudi-led alliance regards the Arabic wing of al-Jazeera, the most widely watched broadcaster in the Arab world, as a propaganda tool for Islamists that also undermines support for their governments. The list of demands also called for other Doha-supported news outlets to be shut, including the New Arab and Middle East Eye.

Other key demands mapped out by Saudi include Qatar severing all ties with terrorist groups, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The ultimatum calls for the handing over of designated terrorists and other individuals by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. All contacts with the political opposition inside Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain would have to be halted with all files handed over that detail Qatar’s prior contacts with, and support for, opposition groups.

Qatar’s links with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main adversary, would have to be confined only to trade allowed under the international sanctions regime and approved by the Gulf Co-operation Council.

Cutting ties to Iran would prove incredibly difficult – Qatar shares with Iran a massive offshore natural gas field, which supplies the small nation that will host the 2022 Fifa World Cup with much of its wealth.

Qatar insists it does not fund terrorists, and has previously said that the embargo is a punishment for following an independent foreign policy more sympathetic to the principles of the Arab spring than that of its neighbours.
Qatar would also be required to accept monthly external audits after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. It would also have to agree to be monitored annually for compliance for 10 years.

Turkey’s defence minister rejected suggestions that Doha should review its military base in Qatar and said demands for its closure represent interference in Ankara’s relations with the Gulf state.

Speaking on Thursday, before the 13 demands were tabled, Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, said his country had always abided by international laws and played a key role in the international coalition fighting Isis.

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.

(OP: The second article provides some useful background to this complex situation.)
How the Saudi-Qatar Rivalry, Now Combusting, Reshaped the Middle East

Doha, the capital of Qatar. Five Arab nations have accused the country of supporting Sunni Islamist terrorism and Iranian designs on the region.
The crisis convulsing the Persian Gulf, entangling the United States and now threatening to pull in Turkey and Iran, can be traced to a dilemma facing a man who had just deposed his own father.

When Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the crown prince of Qatar, took power in a bloodless coup in 1995, he seized a barely independent nation about the size of Connecticut, with one-seventh its population. It had been dominated since independence in 1971 by its far larger and more powerful neighbor, Saudi Arabia.

He believed Qatar could find security only by transforming itself from Saudi appendage to rival. But how?

The audacious plan he put in motion set off something of a regional cold war, in time remaking not just the politics of the oil-rich Persian Gulf, but also those of the entire Middle East, culminating in last week’s crisis.

It would be as if Cuba sought to break from American influence by becoming a global superpower overnight, competing with the United States across Asia and Europe.

Qatar’s strategy seemed to finally collapse this past week, with Saudi Arabia and its allies imposing a blockade. But Qatar has its own allies. The consequences of this rivalry may still be unfolding.

Solving a Problem

In the years before Sheikh Hamad took power, a few incidents deepened his desire to break from Saudi domination.
In 1988, his father had established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, a Saudi adversary, giving Qatar a taste of an independent foreign policy.

In 1992, a clash with Saudi Arabia along their short but disputed border left two Qatari soldiers dead. Two years later, when Yemen fell into a brief civil war, Qatar and Saudi Arabia backed opposing sides.

Autonomy, Sheikh Hamad learned, could be both feasible and desirable.

Marc Lynch, a political scientist at George Washington University, put Sheikh Hamad’s view as: “Why be under the thumb of the Saudis if you don’t have to be?”

The Qatari emir also had ambitions to prove himself more than a Saudi vassal.

“A lot of it does come down to personality,” Mr. Lynch said. “When the new emir comes in, he really does have a chip on his shoulder.”

A Rise to Rivalry

Few countries have ever grown from client state to regional power. Qatar managed it in just a few years.

“From the late 1990s on, Qatari foreign policy is a combination of: ‘What can we do to get ourselves on the map?’ and ‘What can we do to annoy the Saudis?’” Mr. Lynch said.

Qatar cultivated ties with Iran and established trade relations with Israel. It became host to a large American air base, in part to guard against Saudi bullying.

It established the satellite news channel Al Jazeera, using it to project soft power, promote allies and needle the Saudi royal family.

It also made use of its history as a once-remote haven for Islamist exiles. If foreign governments had to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian group Hamas, Chechen separatists or even the Taliban, they often went through Qatar.

Then, in the 1990s, technological and economic developments created a global market for liquefied natural gas, which can be loaded onto ships, bypassing pipelines that would run through Saudi territory. Qatar controls some of the world’s largest gas reserves, so its economy expanded from $ 8.1 billion in 1995 to an astonishing $ 210 billion in 2014.

Sheikh Hamad and his foreign minister jetted from one Arab capital to another, offering their services as mediators and generous donors.

The United States found Qatar’s diplomacy useful, if sometimes annoying, using it as a base for Afghan peace talks. It relied on its Qatari air base for the war in Iraq and, later, strikes in Syria.

In 2002, Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Qatar, nominally over Al Jazeera’s criticism of the Saudi government.
“It takes until 2008 for Saudi Arabia to really digest the notion that Qatar is a fully independent state,” said David B. Roberts, a professor at King’s College London.

The Saudi ambassador returned to Qatar in 2008, and the two neighbors might have found equilibrium if not for what came next.

‘Open Proxy Warfare’

The Arab Spring, which saw uprisings across the region in 2011, provided Qatar with an opening.

For all its rising influence, Qatar had never been able to crack Saudi regional dominance. Now, with Saudi-aligned autocrats under threat, it saw opportunity.

It backed antigovernment movements, both secular and Islamist, with Al Jazeera airtime, diplomatic support and, later, money and sometimes weapons, hoping to install friendly new governments. When Islamists showed the most promise, Qatar threw its support behind them.

To Saudi Arabia, the uprisings imperiled both the regional order and, potentially, its own rule; populist Islamist movements had long challenged it at home.

Every time a vacuum opened, both gulf rivals would rush to fill it first. “From 2011 to 2013, they’re in open proxy warfare across the region,” Mr. Lynch said.

In Tunisia, for instance, each supported opposing political parties.

Elsewhere, their rivalry fueled violence. In Libya, each backed armed groups that would later fight a civil war. In Syria, they sought to outbid each other in financing rebels, including extremists.

In Egypt, Qatar backed the Muslim Brotherhood, whose candidate won the country’s first real presidential vote in 2012. The next year, when the Egyptian military took power in a coup, Saudi Arabia and its allies awarded the new rulers a $ 12 billion aid package.

These interventions, in addition to shaping the Arab Spring, helped realign the region’s geopolitics.

Turkey, for its own reasons, joined Qatar in backing the uprisings, forming the basis of Qatar’s first real alliance.

Sunni monarchies like the United Arab Emirates, fearing uprisings at home, consolidated behind Saudi leadership and against Qatar.

The rivalry even extended to Washington, where Qatar spent lavishly on lobbying and think tank donations. The United Arab Emirates did the same, seeking to keep pace with Qatar’s influence in the United States.

An Uneasy New Order

“In 2013, you have more or less a rout of the Qatari position,” Mr. Lynch said.

Qatar’s Arab Spring allies suffered devastating setbacks. Sheikh Hamad, in poor health, abdicated the throne and was succeeded by a 33-year-old son with less experience. The country’s brief tenure as a regional power ended.

Still, Qatar retained the autonomy and network of connections that had been its original goal.

Saudi Arabia tolerated Qatar’s autonomy, to focus on another regional proxy war, against Iran. This also served the interests of the United States, which relied on both Saudi Arabia and Qatar in fighting the Islamic State and wanted their rivalry stabilized.

The 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, which Saudi Arabia opposed, further complicated the issue. It left Saudi Arabia more concerned by Qatar’s links to Iran, however limited, but less willing to pressure Qatar, which the Saudis knew would inflame tensions with Washington over the Iran deal.

The rivals were left in a tenuous, uneasy balance.

A Saudi Gamble

Though Qatar had stepped back, its campaign taught Saudi Arabia a lesson: An uncontrolled Qatar posed a grave threat.

Saudi Arabia, joined by other gulf states and Egypt, finally found its opportunity to reimpose dominance with last week’s blockade.

This would also force fence-sitters to choose sides, at a moment when Saudi Arabia is stronger. Riyadh is still working to re-establish regional dominance, under growing pressure from Iran.

But Saudi Arabia appeared to quickly win the greatest prize of all: American backing.

President Trump, who received a rapturous welcome in Riyadh last month, welcomed the blockade of an American ally, a stunning policy reversal that seemingly happened overnight. On Twitter, he seemed to imply that the blockade had been his idea.

But forcing hands can be risky.

Iran has offered food aid to Qatar, betting that it can expand its influence there and perhaps with two other gulf states, Kuwait and Oman, that seek a balance between it and Saudi Arabia.

Morocco, initially neutral, announced on Monday that it would send food aid to Qatar, according to Moroccan reports.
The most significant move could come from Turkey, which has sided vocally with Qatar. Its Parliament approved a measure allowing Turkey to deploy up to 3,000 troops to its base in Qatar, where 100 are currently stationed.

Aaron Stein, an analyst at the Atlantic Council, a think tank based in Washington, said Turkey had recently patched up relations with Saudi Arabia, seeking a middle ground, “but there are limits to that.”

Turkey’s state-dominated media, which has few pro-Saudi voices, has championed the defense of Qatar, an ally, as a nationalist cause.

Though Turkey is a NATO member, over the past year it has joined Iran in aligning its regional strategy with Russia’s. Moscow’s position could gain in the crisis as American allies quarrel.

Though few expect the standoff to escalate to violence, it remains far from clear how it will be resolved. This may be the end of the two-decade Saudi-Qatar rivalry, or it could bring just another layer of instability and crosscutting alliances to a region that already has plenty.


OP: So to summarize, Saudi Arabia is trying to stifle any form of dissent in the region. And this huge and growing problem was literally sparked by the imbecility of one Donald Trump. And now Rex Tillerson is urging an easing of the blockade against Qatar, trying to undo some of the damage, apparently.

Source: ONTD_Political

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