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memri
July 13, 2017 No.
7007

Criticism In Gulf, Egyptian Press: Trump Administration Is Pro-Qatar

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain, the four countries that have been blockading and making demands of Qatar for the past month because, they say, of its support for terrorism and for Iran,[1] are also waging a diplomatic campaign aimed at persuading the world, primarily its purported allies in the West and first and foremost the U.S., that they are in the right in the current Gulf crisis. These diplomatic efforts, however, do not seem to be succeeding.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the Western countries have sparked resentment among the four blockading countries, and defied their expectations, by expressing reservations regarding the demands that these countries presented to Qatar[2] and have continued to support the ongoing Kuwaiti mediation efforts to resolve the crisis. U.S., German, British and French officials have been maintaining intensive contacts with both sides, including with numerous visits, in an attempt to iron things out between them.

The U.S. position in this matter has stood out for its inconsistency, alongside a clear pro-Qatar approach on the part of the U.S. Departments of State and Defense. U.S. President Donald Trump is, at least in principle, siding with the blockading countries, calling on Qatar to stop funding terrorism[3] and praising the four countries' anti-Qatar measures.[4] On the other hand, he phoned the Qatari emir to offer his help in resolving the crisis, even proposing that a summit of leaders of the blockading countries and Qatar be held at the White House.[5] Likewise, White House press secretary Sean Spicer called the crisis "a family issue and [one] that they should work out [themselves]."[6]

The position of the U.S. State and Defense Departments in the crisis has from the beginning been clearly pro-Qatar, and this has been evident in both words and deeds. On July 11, 2017, the U.S. and Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the fight against terrorism. According to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the work on the drafting of the memorandum took about a year, but the signing of it at this particular time of the Gulf crisis expresses the State Department's support for Qatar. At a press conference with his Qatari counterpart, Tillerson said: "I think Qatar has been quite clear in its positions, and, I think, very reasonable... Together, the U.S. and Qatar will do more to track down [terror] funding sources, collaborate and share information, and do more to keep the region and our homeland safe." He praised the Qatari emir, who, he said, was "the first to respond to President Trump's challenge" to stop funding for terrorism and to take steps against sources of funding for terrorism at the May 2017 summit in Riyadh.[7] State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert also welcomed the memorandum, saying that it "set a good example for the other nations that we hope will come to the table with us as well." However, when asked explicitly whether the memorandum would be extended to other countries, she expressed uncertainty. [8] It should also be mentioned that, despite signing the memorandum with Qatar and despite his positive statements about Qatar, Tillerson continues his efforts to mediate between this country and the blockading states and to shuttle between them. Today (July 13, 2017) Tillerson is due to return to Qatar after his meeting yesterday with officials from the blockading countries.

The Defense Department also showed that it considered relations with Qatar important. About three weeks into the crisis, on June 14, 2017, the two countries signed a $12 billion deal for F-15 aircraft.[9] Also, on July 7, Defense Secretary James Mattis met with his Qatari counterpart Khaled Al-Attiyah to affirm the two countries' "strategic security partnership" and discuss mutual security interests.[10]

Likewise, over the past month State Department officials have made statements that have been interpreted as taking Qatar's side in the crisis. For example, Tillerson called on the blockading countries to ease the blockade on Qatar and noted that the Qatari emir was making progress in his efforts to stop funding terrorism and to expel terrorist elements from his country.[11] State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert wondered if the measures taken by the blockading countries against Qatar were "really about their concerns regarding Qatar's alleged support for terrorism, or were... about the long simmering grievances between and among the GCC countries"[12]

Overall, the position taken by the U.S. has not been well received by the blockading countries. Thus, in response to the signing of the U.S.-Qatar memorandum, the four announced in a joint statement that "this step is not sufficient" and that "the four countries [i.e. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE] will closely monitor the seriousness of the Qatari authorities' struggle against all kinds of funding and support for terrorism and of the fostering of it." The statement added: "The four countries value the U.S. efforts in the fight against terrorism and its funding, and the full and strong partnership... that was manifested at the Arab Islamic-American summit [i.e. the May 2017 Riyadh summit] that expressed a firm international position against extremism and terrorism... The signing of the memorandum between the U.S. and the Qatari authorities regarding the struggle against the funding of terrorism is the result of the various and repeated pressures and demands made over many long years by the four countries and their partners, that the Qatari authorities stop [that country's] support for terrorism."[13]

The resentment in the four blockading countries is also evident in numerous articles in their respective government presses criticizing the U.S. and European countries for their positions in the crisis. The articles called for rejection of these Western countries' mediation efforts; some hinted that the U.S. and U.K. were partners in Qatar's terrorism and even that elements in them had received funds in exchange for supporting Qatar. Another article was understanding of the U.S. security interests in the region, but argued that Tillerson's methods will not lead to a breakthrough in resolving the crisis.

The following are translations of the main points of these articles criticizing the positions of the West, and the U.S., in the Gulf crisis:

 

'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed: By Supporting Qatar, Tillerson Complicates, Prolongs The Crisis

Responding to the memorandum on combatting terror signed by the U.S. and Qatar on July 11, 2017, prominent Saudi journalist 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, the former editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and former director of Alarabiya TV, wrote an article titled "Is the American [State] Secretary Siding with Qatar?," in which he harshly criticized Tillerson: "What was said and implied by State Secretary [Tillerson] in the press conference in Doha was no cause for optimism. Rather, it reflected a shallow attitude to the problem on his part, for he confined the solution to a memorandum in which the Qatari government has promised to fight terror. What an achievement!...

"From the beginning of the crisis Tillerson has sided with Qatar. The doubts increased even further when he rushed to determine and declare, before even hearing the other side, that Qatar's demands were reasonable, [a position] which aroused puzzlement. State Secretary [Tillerson] is entitled to side with Qatar if he wants to, but he must know that this complicates an already complicated problem and will prolong the crisis...

"State Secretary Tillerson cannot force a reconciliation, but he can bring the sides, which are [all] his allies, closer together instead of siding with one side against the other... How can State Secretary Tillerson persuade four countries that are fighting for their survival to reconcile with the side responsible [for their problems], and how much longer will [the U.S.] continue testing Qatar's good intentions, [a test] it has failed many times?"[14]


Tillerson with the Emir of Qatar (Image: Al-Watan, Qatar, July 12, 2017)

Senior Egyptian Journalist: We Must Reject Any Western Mediation Efforts That Do Not Require Qatar To Sever Relations With Terror Organizations; U.S. Is Rewarding Qatar For Supporting Its "Creative Chaos" Policy

In an article published on the day the memorandum was signed, Makram Muhammad Ahmad, president of Egypt's Supreme Media Regulatory Council, called to reject any U.S.-brokered agreement that does not obligate Qatar to sever its ties with terror organizations, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. In an article in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, he wrote that the U.S. was siding with Qatar in the Gulf crisis, and that this was a reward for Qatar's contribution to the "creative chaos" policy of the Obama administration. He wrote: "We know very well that there is a Western-American desire to reward Qatar for the role it played in blowing up and destroying the Arab world during the Obama presidency. [This was done] under the caption of 'creative chaos' and as part of a foolish policy which assumes that bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the Middle East is the quickest way to eliminate the Palestinian cause at Egypt's expense. But we [also] know very well that, unless Qatar is clearly punished for its destructive role in Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Palestine and pays the full price for it, it will revert to its old ways and try to bring destruction upon Egypt, divide Saudi Arabia, ignite Sunni-Shi'ite conflict in Bahrain, and conspire against the UAE while encouraging the establishment of a clandestine Muslim Brotherhood organization there...

"I think we all know that the war on terror will bear no fruit as long as certain rogue countries allow themselves to fund the crimes of terrorism while other countries pay the heavy price in the blood of their sons. Therefore, the response of the four countries [blockading Qatar] to the mediation of Tillerson and his British servant [U.K. National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill] must be firm. [It must] reject any political settlement of the crisis that will lift the blockade from Qatar, unless Qatar severs its relations with the terror organizations as part of a clear agreement that will be implemented rapidly and will be backed by international guarantees and a transparent oversight mechanism. [This agreement] must designate the Muslim Brotherhood, both regionally and globally, as a terror organization, for the experience of the war on terror proves very clearly that terror cannot be uprooted as long as the Muslim Brotherhood's activity continues, for it is the root and the source of the violence that gave birth to all the terrorist organizations."[15]

Bahraini Journalist: British, American Circles Are Also Involved In Terror

As stated, even before the signing of the memorandum, articles in the press of the countries blockading Qatar accused the U.S. and the West of supporting Qatar. Bahraini journalist and author Susan Al-Sha'er, a columnist for the London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, suggested in her column that British and American circles were also involved in the terror "enterprise" along with Qatar: "Is not the entire world, including the superpowers, fighting terror? Doesn't the international community demand of us Muslim countries to fight extremism and terror? Is it not the natural [duty] of the whole world to stand with us against those who fund, support and embrace terror? Is not Qatar's involvement in supporting terror, and in sheltering and financing prominent figures involved in terror, as clear as day?...

"The terror and terror organizations, and all their branches... both armed and unarmed... are all tools of an enterprise whose missions are divided between Qatar, Iran, Turkey and Israel, as well as British and American circles.

"The picture is thus becoming clearer, as are the meaning and the purpose of the moves that Qatar is taking along with [certain] international elements, as well as the efforts of certain circles in Europe and the U.S. to save Qatar from collapse. This is intended to stop the exposure of dossiers full of documents presenting detailed information [on various elements' involvement in terror]. If those [European and American] circles become convinced that Qatar will not [be able to] withstand the determination of the four [blockading] countries [and their insistence on] pursuing their policy, they might – just might – sacrifice a few Qatari officials in order to put an end to this affair...

"This might explain why, within only one month [since the imposing of the Qatar blockade], the armed organizations in the areas of conflict rapidly lost much of their influence zones. This [happened] because not only Qatar but also those [other countries involved in terror] want to end this affair. This realization obliges us to reposition ourselves and formulate a new strategy focused on the following: international activity; pressuring those foreign circles trying to save Qatar; appealing directly to public opinion without the mediation of governments, in order to force those circles to discharge their duty towards their citizens, and [efforts to] draw a link between the attempts to save Qatar and [the attempts] to save those responsible for killing British and American civilians, in order to compel these circles to save their reputations and themselves. The more we draw a connection between the victims of terror there [in the West] and those who are hiding in Qatar, the more we shame those who are trying to save Qatar."[16]

Saudi Columnist: Have The European Countries Afflicted By Terrorism Made A Deal With Qatar?

In his column in the Saudi government daily Al-Jazirah, Saudi journalist Jasser Al-Jasser suggested another possible reason for the pro-Qatar position of some Western circles, namely that Qatar bribed them. He wrote: "The main reason for the dispute between the countries blockading Qatar and Qatar's ruling group is clear not only to them [the blockading countries] but also to many European countries, to the U.S., and to Russia. [That reason] is... that the Qataris support terrorism, and embrace the leaders involved in directing and planning terror operations and give them safe haven in Qatar. Everyone knows about this [Qatari] activity, and many countries have evidence and recordings that highlight the Qatari rulers' involvement in terrorism [that has been ongoing] from 1995, when Hamad bin Khalifa took over the emirate, to this day...

"[Qatar's involvement in terrorism] is known and documented. So why haven't the European countries that have been harmed more than anyone else by terrorism announced their support for the countries that are blockading the Qatari rulers? Why have they not condemned their activity in spreading and supporting terrorism? Was a deal, or deals, arrived at during the travels of [Qatari Prime Minister and former foreign minister] Hamad bin Jassim and [Qatari Foreign Minister] Muhammad bin 'Abd Al-Rahman to several countries in the West? [Or have the European] countries that have been afflicted by terrorism preferred one of the pieces of cake that the Qatari rulers are handing out to anyone who stands with them – as Iran and Turkey have?"[17]


Tillerson with Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah (image: 24.ae, July 10, 2017)

Editor Of UAE Al-Ittihad Daily: U.S. Position On Gulf Crisis Is Either Superficial Or An Attempt To Evade Responsibility

Some of the articles criticized statements by U.S. officials who had expressed reservations about the actions of the blockading countries and thus had essentially supported Qatar. Muhammad Al-Hamadi, editor of the UAE daily Al-Ittihad, slammed White House press secretary Sean Spicer for calling the Qatar crisis a "family issue." He wrote: "The role played by the U.S. is no doubt important... but it is more important for this role to be grounded in real [facts], and the real [fact] is that the blockade imposed on Qatar by three Gulf states, Egypt and several other Arab and Muslim countries is not a 'family issue.' This current conflict is not over borders or resources, or over interests and privileges. It is a much bigger conflict: an existential and moral one... Washington's assessment that it is a family issue can be understood in two only ways: it is either a superficial and hasty assessment of reality, and that would be odd, or it is an attempt [by the U.S.] to evade its moral responsibility to fight terror, because the essence of the problem with Qatar has to do with terror, [namely Qatar's] support for and financing of terrorists. So this is not a family problem... but a global one...

"Moral responsibility obliges the West to clarify its position on the war on terror and [on the efforts] to dry up its sources of finance, and therefore [the West] must declare its position on Qatar's political and financial support for terrorism, because Qatari money is everywhere and this does not seem to have escaped the West's notice...

"U.S. State Department staff is hereby invited to investigate and [try to] discover any proof that Qatar has ever persecuted, imprisoned or even accused any of the individuals included on the international lists of terror financers. They will discover they are searching for [proof] that does not exist, and then they can tell us if they [still] think this is a family issue or not."[18]

In Dealing With Qatar, U.S. Must Be As Firm As It Was After 9/11

In another article, Al-Hamadi criticized the U.S.'s inconsistent position and called on it to fight Qatar's involvement in terror as firmly as it fought terror after 9/11. He wrote: "When the U.S. suffered the most horrific terror attack of the early 2000s on September 11, [2001], [then-]U.S. president George Bush Jr. did not hesitate to send his troops to the countries from which that terror had emerged and which had trained the terrorists and extended them financial and logistic support. More than that. [Bush] arrested anyone suspected of having connections to terror. His main slogan, [which he declared] to the world, was 'you are either with us or against us,' for in the war on terror there can be no negotiations or deals.

"The real conflict with Qatar is over its insistence on pursuing a policy that undermines the security and stability of the countries in the region... Whoever can end [this conflict] and cause Qatar to stop [this policy] will help Qatar and the region end the crisis. This is what we expect from the minister [Tillerson] who is visiting [the region] and from all ministers visiting the countries that have declared [their intention] to fight terror and terror financing. Otherwise, what's the point?..."[19]

Al-Khaleej Columnist: U.S. Administration Conveying Conflicting Messages On Crisis

Dr. 'Abdallah Al-Sweiji, a columnist for the UAE daily Al-Khaleej, wrote that the statements of State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, in which she questioned Qatar's support of terrorism, "surprised everyone, because the U.S. [seems to] think that Qatar's assistance for extremist organizations known to perpetrate terror is only an assumption that has yet to be proven. Qatar [now] presents this U.S. statement as proof that it is innocent of supporting terrorism, implying that it has been horribly wronged and subjected to an inhuman blockade. The U.S. State Department spokesperson ignored the fact that, over a month ago, even before the GCC states severed their relations with Qatar, her own country launched a systematic media campaign against Qatar, accusing it of financing terror in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan...

"I wonder what is America's official position on the Gulf crisis? Does it support [our position], doubt it, or [take] an advisory role? The Gulf states are entitled to doubt the sincerity of the American position, and they are entitled to safeguard their security and their people's security, achievements and welfare. They will not let anyone toy with their stability and extort them...

"The vague and conflicting messages of the U.S. administration are not helping to resolve the crisis peacefully... Qatar might think that this [U.S.] position serves its agenda, which it has been pursuing since 2011[20]..."[21]

Bahraini Columnist: U.S. Not Really Committed To Fighting Terror

Bahraini columnist Fawzia Rashid also wrote about the conflicting positions of President Trump and of his secretaries of state and defense, and questioned the U.S. commitment to fighting terror: "The unclarity of the American position vis-à-vis the demands [of the blockading countries] is notable here... because there is a difference between the position [expressed by President] Trump's tweets and the statements of U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson, on the one hand, and the statements of U.S. Secretary of Defense [James Mattis]. This makes it clear that the American president has so far been unable to formulate a uniform American discourse on the issue of the crisis with Qatar and to [adapt this discourse ] to the demands of the blockading countries...

"The American decision makers do not want to absolutely eliminate the Qatari role, [but] neither do they want to lose the four countries that have decided to fight the terrorism and unrest that threaten their national security. This [situation] creates an [American] position that is evasive and pressures [the blockading countries]. It should be assumed that if the U.S. really wanted to fight terrorism, it would first of all stand unhesitatingly alongside the demands that are aimed at ending the Qatari role in funding and supporting terrorism and its media."[22]

Al-Hayat Bureau Chief: Tillerson Is Interested In Diplomatic Solution That Safeguards U.S. Interests

Joyce Karam, the Washington D.C. bureau chief for Al-Hayat and a columnist for the daily, was gentler in her criticism of Tillerson: "The first mistake Secretary of State [Tillerson] made was to sign the memorandum with Qatar... on combatting terror and terror financing on the assumption that this may lead to Gulf negotiations aimed at ending the crisis. His mistake was not the actual signing of the agreement, which seems to indicate that the last three [U.S.] administrations – Bush's, Obama's and Trump's – realize Qatar has been dragging its feet in fighting terror financing. His mistake lies in the fact that the language of the agreement remains secret, and that no mechanism has been [established] to implement it, and no new measures [have been introduced] for combating [terror] financing...

"Tillerson no doubt wants a diplomatic solution that preserves U.S. interests, chief of them maintaining the unity of the GCC states and keeping the [Gulf] crisis from affecting the war on terror. But Tillerson's methods, and the unclarity of the U.S. strategy in this crisis – amid the disagreement between the White House and the U.S. State Department – leave Tillerson with less room to maneuver. This supports the assessments that the crisis will remain [unresolved] in the interim term, until a comprehensive and genuine solution is reached, and will not end with a breakthrough [brought about by] Tillerson.

"This crisis, beyond its significance for the future of the Gulf, constitutes a first test for Tillerson, and a difficult one. To succeed, he will have to come up with a practical mechanism for a solution or agreement with Doha that will address [the issue of] 11 figures with ties to Qatar that appear on the U.S. State Department and Treasury terror lists. It is not enough to sign secret agreements that might remain on the page and cause a new crisis in several years, [in the time of] Tillerson's successor."[23]

 

 

[1] See MEMRI reports on the current Gulf crisis: Inquiry and Analysis No. 1315, Uproar In The Gulf Following Alleged Statements By Qatari Emir Condemning Gulf States, Praising Iran, Hizbullah, Muslim Brotherhood And Hamas, May 25, 2017, and Special Dispatch No. 6996, The Gulf Crisis As Reflected In Editorial Cartoons, July 6, 2017.

[2] These demands include curbing its ties with Iran; severing ties with terrorist organizations and ending the financing of terror; shutting down the Al-Jazeera channel; ending interference in other countries' internal affairs and stopping all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain, and paying compensation for loss of life and financial losses caused by its policies in recent years (gulfnews.com, June 23, 2017).

[3] CNN.com, June 10, 2017.

[4] Theguardian.com, June 6, 2017,

[5] CNN.com, June 8, 2017.

[6] Whitehouse.gov, June 23, 2017.

[7] CNN.com, July 11, 2017.

[8] State.gov, July 11, 2017.

[9] Reuters.com, June 14, 2017.

[10] Defense.gov, July 7, 2017.

[11] State.gov, June 9. 2017.

[12] State.gov, June 20, 2017.

[13] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), July 12, 2017.

[14] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 12, 2017.

[15] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 11, 2017.

[16] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 9, 2017.

[17] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), July 6, 2017.

[18] Al-Ittihad (UAE), June 27, 2017.

[19] Al-Ittihad (UAE), July 10, 2017.

[20] This refers to the outbreak of the Arab Spring. Qatar is accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition elements that were acting to topple the regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

[21] Al-Khaleej (UAE), June 26, 2017.

[22] Akhbar Al-Khleej (Bahrain), July 5, 2017.

[23] Al-Hayat (London), July 13, 2017.