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memri
March 1, 2011 No.
672

Clashes on Facebook Over Calls for Revolution in Qatar

By: L. Barkan*

Introduction

Against the backdrop of the uprisings sweeping the Arab world, a campaign has been launched on Facebook calling for a revolution against the regime of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Aal Thani. Its organizers are protesting against the corruption rampant in the regime and the absence of real political and party life in Qatar, as well as the lack of coverage of Qatar's domestic affairs on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV. They also criticized the country's friendly relations with Israel and the U.S.

The campaign's organizers originally set February 27, 2011 as the date for the revolution, but their call was answered by only a few hundred Facebook users. Several days prior to this date, the organizers decided to postpone the revolution until March 16, resulting in greater support for the campaign; over 36,000 users joined the campaign's Facebook page, "The Freedom Revolution, March 16, Qatar," apparently within days. Additional pages participating in the campaign garnered the support of hundreds of users, with several topping over 1,000 users.

Follow is an overview of the campaign for the revolution in Qatar.

I. An Overview of Facebook Pages Calling for Revolution in Qatar

"The Freedom Revolution, March 16, Qatar" – The Main Page of the Revolution[1]

The revolution's main page, "The Freedom Revolution, March 16, Qatar," has been the hub of widespread virtual activity, with over 36,000 "likes." Though it contains no clear doctrine or specific information regarding the aims of the revolution, or the manner in which it is to be conducted, the pictures and texts posted to the page indicate fierce protest against Qatar's foreign and domestic policies under the current emir, and against the actions of his wife, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, and her involvement in the country's affairs of state. The page's profile picture shows the emir's photo with a large X on it, and bears the message, "For the sake of Qatar, bring the traitorous agent of the Jews to trial."

It should be noted that the page was publicized on Aljazeera.net's forum, sparking an online debate among a number of forum members.[2]


"The Freedom Revolution, March 16, Qatar" Facebook page, as accessed February 27, 2011


Image posted on page showing Qatari emir, Saudi King 'Abdallah, and Libyan leader Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi in a meeting, captioned: "You will meet again – but to account [for your actions] rather than to laugh at [your] peoples"

"Qatar for the Freedom Revolution on March 16"[3]

The Facebook page "Qatar for the Freedom Revolution on March 16" won the support of some 4,500 users. Its profile picture is a photograph of the Qatari emir shaking the hand of Israeli President Shimon Peres, with a large X on it (see below). One comment posted to the page includes a communiqué issued by several dozen opposition members calling themselves "the Qatari opposition abroad in Canada" leveling numerous charges against the Qatari regime and swearing loyalty to the emir's exiled brother, who currently resides in France.[4]

"The Revolution of Purification and Change (The Revolution of the Qatari Youth, March 16)"[5]

Another page, titled "The Revolution of Purification and Change (The Revolution of the Qatari Youth, March 16)," has, at the time of this writing, some 900 "likes." A list of "the demands of the Qatari youth" was posted to the page; it includes the removal of the U.S. military bases from the country, the exclusion of Sheikha Moza from state affairs, the dissolution of Qatar's ties with Iran and Israel, and the establishment of normal political life in Qatar.

"The Revolution of the Qatari Youth, March 15"[6]

One Facebook page set the date for the revolution as March 15, 2011. This page, which garnered more than 2,500 "likes," demanded that all ties be severed with Israel and the U.S., "the enemies of Islam," and that Qatar's resources be exported to the Arab and Muslim states rather than to the West.

"February 27, the Qatari Day of Rage"[7]

Another Facebook page, called "February 27, the Qatari Day of Rage," which was launched in mid-February, initially set the date of the revolution as February 27, but later called on its members to join the March 16 revolution. The page has several hundred users, and its profile picture bears the message, "The March 16 Revolution, Qatar, the Revolution of Rage, No to American Bases in Qatar." The page's information states that its aim is for the Qatari people to "assemble and stage a sit-down strike until our demands are met."

II. An Overview of the Issues and Demands of the Protest as Presented on Facebook

The Facebook pages calling for revolution in Qatar voiced protest against various issues of Qatar's foreign and domestic policies, harsh personal criticism of the emir and his wife, and demands for change within the country. It should be noted that the pages showed little clear evidence of operational or tactical organization on the ground, either within Qatar or abroad. Following is an overview of the issues discussed on these pages.

Criticism of Regime Corruption and Lack of Democracy

The Facebook pages protested the manner in which Qatar conducted its domestic affairs, its lack of true democracy, the corruption within the regime, and the confiscation of public property by members of the regime.

The Facebook page "The Revolution of Purification and Change (The Revolution of the Qatari Youth, March 16)" called for Qatar "to end the political standstill in the country and establish party and political life," and "to establish an independent inspection apparatus to legally act toward eliminating the current corruption, and prevent further corruption." In a communiqué posted on the Facebook page "Qatar for the Freedom Revolution on March 16," the Qatari opposition in Canada accused members of the Qatari government of "forcing merchants and businessmen to enter into partnership [with them]... and give them a large percentage of their profits; seizing the lands, realty, and estates of others by force of government and under police protection; [responsibility for] the economic chaos due to inflation; and refraining from establishing a strong military, in order to prevent a coup."

Protest was likewise voiced against the regime's refusal to recognize the genuine tribal ancestry of Qatari citizens in order to enable their deportation, and its conferment of citizenship on foreigners by counterfeiting similar Qatari tribal ancestry. The Facebook page "Qatar for the Freedom Revolution on March 16" claimed that the Qatari regime had deported upwards of 5,000 members of a particular Qatari tribe, while it had naturalized 40,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees, whose lineage was then falsely ascribed to Qatari tribes.

Criticism of Qatar's Openness toward the U.S. and the West; Protest against the U.S. Military Bases in Qatar

A central target of the criticism expressed on the Facebook pages were the U.S. military bases in Qatar, and Qatar's friendly relations with the U.S. in general. (It should be noted that the Al-Udeid Air Base is the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East.) The Facebook page "February 27, the Qatari Day of Rage," for example, demanded that the U.S. military bases in Qatar be dismantled (see above). The profile page of "The Freedom Revolution, March 16, Qatar" contained a photograph depicting the Qatari emir as a predatory animal with bloodstained hands, above the caption, "This is the criminal, the primary accomplice in the murder of the Muslim martyrs who fell in Iraq and Afghanistan." The picture itself bore the message: "The criminal Hamad bin Khalifa Aal Thani, the greatest supporter of the American Al-Udeid Base, [a man] from hell. Not a single plane left the Al-Udeid Base in Qatar to attack Iraq or Afghanistan without this murderer having had an evil hand in it. May Allah fight the people whose hands are stained with the blood of Muslims."

The Facebook page "Qatar for the Freedom Revolution on March 16" opposed the building of a church in Qatar at a cost of more than $20 million, at the same time, it claimed, that the country's mosques were left neglected.

Similarly, the emir was accused of constructing bars in Qatar that serve alcohol, in the name of freedom. The Facebook page "Qatar for the Freedom Revolution on March 16" claimed that those who had opposed this action had been imprisoned.

Protest Against Qatar-Israel Friendship

The pages protested against the Qatari Emir's relations with Israel and its top officials and against the friendship between the two countries. Thus, the Facebook page "The Freedom Revolution, March 16, Qatar" featured a photograph of the Emir of Qatar shaking hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres, with the caption, "The picture speaks [for itself], oh agent of the Jews."

Criticism of Sheikha Moza

Criticism was leveled against Sheikha Moza, wife of the emir, for allegedly dressing immodestly and plundering the state coffers. The Facebook page "The Freedom Revolution, March 16, Qatar" featured a photograph of Sheikha Moza, accompanied by the text: "Moza Al-Missned, wife of the Zionist Emir, a 51-year-old woman, welcoming the Jews in a Muslim country? Take a look at the picture – is this what the religion of the Prophet Muhammad decreed with regard to the hijab? This Zionist woman stole Qatar's money for herself, her family, and her children... This agent would like to turn Qatar from a Muslim country into an infidel state, by opening bars in Qatar!"

On the page titled "The Revolution of Purification and Change (The Revolution of the Qatari Youth, March 16), there was a call "to completely remove Moza from all state affairs."

Criticism of Al-Jazeera TV

Another focal point of criticism was the Qatari Al-Jazeera TV channel, which was accused of completely ignoring domestic Qatari events, including the protest planned for March 16. The text alongside one of the pictures on the Facebook page "The Freedom Revolution, March 16, Qatar" read as follows: "Al-Jazeera TV did not present pictures of the emir of Qatar gaining power through a coup against his father; it did not present pictures of the poisonings in Qatar [as a result] of the medicines and serums imported from Israel; it did not present pictures of the demonstrations in Qatar against the construction of the church or of the demonstrations in Qatar against the US base... It did not present pictures of the case of the Qatari minister who killed his sister; it did not publish reports about Qatar losses on the stock exchange; it did not publish the complaint lodged by Asian laborers about their slavery and harsh living conditions in Qatar, [but] prepared programs about Kuwait's and Dubai's shoddy treatment of [their] workers...

"It did not present pictures from the opening ceremony of a Hebrew school in Qatar; it did not present pictures of the bars opened by the emir of Qatar in the name of freedom; it did not publicize the protest of the Qataris against the naturalization of foreigners; it did not present footage of the dinner held by Sheikha Moza in honor of the Israeli foreign minister; it did not publish the news that the wife of [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu had attended the song festival in Qatar [and had been present but] out of view...

"And the most prominent question is: Why doesn't Al-Jazeera TV cover the March 16 freedom revolution in Qatar?"

Recycling of August 2009 News Item About a Failed Coup

On February 27, 2011, the Facebook page "The Freedom Revolution, March 16, Qatar" reported an attempted military coup allegedly foiled by the emir on February 24, 2011 – the day on which, according to its administrators, the Facebook page was launched. This report was cited by the Arab media as a hot news item. Upon investigation, however, it transpired that this report had been posted on Arab Internet sites as early as August 2009. The item was apparently recycled and posted on the page of the revolution, where it was presented as a fresh news items, as part of the propaganda efforts leading up to the planned action on March 16.

III. Main Page of the Revolution on Facebook Brought Down

On February 28, 2011, all the content of the main page of the revolution, which was titled "The Freedom Revolution, March 16, Qatar" and had over 36,000 "likes," was deleted and replaced with content in support of the emir. Those behind the revolutionary page claimed that the Qatari security services had taken over the page, and called on the supporters of the revolution to join a page titled "Qatar for the Freedom Revolution on March 16," and to "unlike" the original page. Indeed, the number of fans dropped by over 3,000 since the content was changed.

Thread: User Claims Page Was "Conquered and Stolen" by Qatari Security, Calls Upon Supporters to Use Alternative Facebook Page

Facebook Page Titled "The Freedom Revolution, March 16, Qatar," as Accessed February 28, 2011, with Record Number of Fans, Before Change of Content

The Same Facebook Page, as Accessed March 2, 2011, After Content Was Changed; "Likes" Dropped by Over 3,000

IV. Counter-Campaign: "Revolution in Defense of Qatar"[8]

In Qatar, as has happened in other Arab countries, regime supporters began their own online counter-campaign in support of the emir. The page titled "Revolution in Defense of Qatar" had over 1,000 "likes." Its administrators stressed that they were not calling to take to the streets in demonstrations, but that they were drumming up cyber-support only.

* L. Barkan is a research fellow at MEMRI.

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