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March 14, 2014 No.
1075

Unprecedented Tension Between Qatar And Saudi Arabia/UAE/Bahrain Threatens To Break Up Gulf Cooperation Council

By: Y. Yehoshua and Y. Admon and R. Hoffman*

Introduction

In an unprecedented move, on March 5, 2014, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain announced they were recalling their ambassadors from Qatar. The three countries explained that this move was a protest against Qatar's violation of its commitments to them and against its policy that contradicts the interests of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and threatens the stability and security of the Gulf.

The Gulf press indicates that the three countries' anger was sparked by Qatar's political and media support for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its activists in Egypt and in the Gulf itself. Qatar was also accused of pursuing a foreign policy contradictory to that of the Gulf on the issues of Iran, the Syrian regime, and Hizbullah. The press in the three countries even accused it of supporting the Houthi movement in Yemen and terrorist organizations in Syria. Qatar was also accused of promoting the goals of U.S. and Israel, at the expense of the Gulf states.

Qatar, for its part, rejected the accusations that it was harming the security and stability of the region and said that it was entitled to pursue an independent policy despite its membership in the GCC, out of its desire to wield influence and avoid being historically marginalized. The Qatari press argued that the recall of the ambassadors was a response to Qatar's refusal to accept the dictates of Saudi Arabia and to align itself with Saudi policy, whose failure has been proven.

The recall of the ambassadors marks a further increase in the tension among the GCC member states after an initiative by Saudi King 'Abdallah to upgrade the GCC into a union was thwarted by Oman.[1] According to the Qatari press, Saudi Arabia has even threatened to impose a sea and land blockade on Qatar if the latter fails to comply with the demands of its fellow GCC members. Kuwait, which currently heads the GCC, is attempting to mediate between the sides and ease the tensions.

This report will review the tensions between the states and the causes behind it, as reflected in the Gulf and Arab media.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain: The Ambassadors' Recall Was For The Sake Of Security And Stability; Qatar Is Not Meeting Its Obligations

Tensions between Qatar and the three other Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain) have been high for the past six months and more. The tensions peaked when the three announced that they were recalling their ambassadors from Qatar, in a move they termed necessary and "aimed at preserving [their] security and stability." The ambassadors' recall was a protest against Qatar's policies on a number of issues, which, the three countries said, contradicted and even threatened Gulf interests; these issues included Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), especially in light of the ouster of Egyptian president Muhammad Mursi; the Qatari media's hostile coverage of other Gulf states; and Qatar's foreign policy that is not in line with the policy of the trio vis-à-vis regional issues such as the Iranian nuclear dossier and the Syria crisis.

Throughout this period, the Gulf states urged Qatar to change its policy and even threatened to take measures if it did not, which further strained the relations.[2] On November 23, 2013, a summit was held in Riyadh between Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah acting as mediator. At the end of the summit, the Qatari emir added his signature to the "security agreement" known as the Riyadh Agreement, which had been signed previously by other Gulf countries and is aimed at regulating relations between them.[3] The agreement calls for the countries to:

  • Act according to a unified Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) policy and to abide by the GCC's charter and signed agreements, including security agreements;
  • Adhere to the principle of no direct or indirect intervention in the internal affairs of any GCC member country;
  • Refrain from supporting, with either security assistance or political influence, organizations or individuals acting to threaten the security and stability of the Gulf; and
  • Refrain from supporting media outlets hostile to GCC member countries.[4]


From right to left: Saudi King 'Abdallah, Kuwaiti Emir Al-Sabah and Qatari Emir Al-Thani (Image Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, November 24, 2013)

However, even after Qatar signed the agreement, tensions persisted; Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain claimed that Qatar had done nothing to change its approach. At a subsequent meeting, on February 17, 2014, the Qatari emir, the Kuwaiti emir, and the GCC foreign ministers decided that the ministers would discuss forming a body to supervise the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.[5]

Two days later, in a February 19 report, the London daily Al-Arab cited Saudi officials as saying that Saudi-Qatar relations were very strained. According to the report, the Qatari emir had received an urgent letter from the Saudi government stating that Saudi Arabia was considering significantly downgrading or even suspending its relations with Qatar because of the Qatari emir's failure to implement the Riyadh Agreement. The Saudi official who sent the letter noted that his government would take a series of measures with regard to Qatar, to include closing the land crossings between the two countries, banning the use of Saudi airspace to transport goods to and from Qatar, freezing trade agreements signed in 2006, and cutting back on Saudi-Qatar cooperation channels and Qatari interests in Saudi Arabia.[6]

In a March 4, 2014 joint statement on their recall of their ambassadors, the three countries said that since the signing of the Riyadh Agreement in November, Qatar had done nothing to implement it, despite the GCC foreign minsters' significant efforts to pressure it to do so.[7] The statement added that the recall decision followed eight hours of discussions in Riyadh by GCC foreign ministers, and three extensions of the deadline for Qatar to meet its obligations.[8] The official UAE daily Al-Bayan wrote on the matter in an editorial: "Since last November, five GCC members have been monitoring Qatar's commitment [to the Riyadh Agreement] that was signed by [Qatari] Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in the presence of Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. But the days passed and Qatar never translated this agreement into operative measures. Therefore, the parties concerned, who have been harmed by Qatar's policy, had no choice but to protect their security and stability by taking a firm stand."[9]

An editorial in the Saudi daily 'Okaz stated: "We hope our Qatari brothers retract their policy, return to the peaceful [fold] of the Gulf, and stand by their brothers who share their blood, culture, and destiny. They must end to all [joint] action, contacts, cooperation and coordination with elements that conspire against our countries and peoples..."[10]

In response to the ambassador recall, the Qatari government stated that it was saddened by the move and that it was committed to all the founding principles of the GCC, including "preserving the security and stability of the GCC members."[11]

The Kuwaiti emir, whose country heads the GCC and is set to host the Arab League summit later this month (March 25-26), is acting to mediate between Qatar and the three countries as well as between Qatar and Egypt, but has had little success so far. Kuwaiti parliamentary speaker Ghanem Al-Marzouqi said: "As residents of the Gulf, we never thought we would hear such a thing [as the ambassadors' recall]... The Kuwaiti parliament hopes that this is a fleeting [problem] and expects the emir... to continue in his efforts to reconcile the [differing] outlooks."[12]


The five accusations against Qatar according to Al-Hayat: Violation of the Riyadh Agreement; funding organizations and trends that threaten the interests of the three countries; support for political Islam groups that threaten regional security; subordinating its media to partisan interests and harming Arab interests; interfering in the domestic and foreign policy of the three countries" (Al-Hayat, London, March 7, 2014)

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain: Current Circumstances Require A Unified GCC Policy

The March 4 joint statement by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain stressed that Qatar was required to act according to a unified GCC policy, and to abide by the principles of the GCC charter and the agreements it had signed as part of it.

Newspaper editorials in all three countries spoke of Qatar's obligation to adopt policies that were in line with those of the other GCC members, especially in light of the dangers currently facing the region, and stated that any deviation from that line set a dangerous precedent for inter-GCC relations. The Saudi daily Al-Watan wrote in its editorial that the Qatari statesmen's insistence on going their own way "is no longer acceptable, particularly in the current circumstances that call for a unified policy and a joint sense of responsibility for the sake of the common security."[13]

A report in the Saudi daily 'Okaz stated: "The recall of the ambassadors is not an end in itself, but rather a means. This apparently was the final option in the attempt to force Qatar to operate like part of the joint Gulf security arrangement. The circumstances impacting the countries of the Arab region, and particularly the Gulf region, require Gulf unity in dealing with the surrounding dangers..." The report added that the recall was "one of the most important strategic decisions taken by the three countries as part of their adherence to the underlying principles of the GCC."[14]

The UAE daily Al-Khaleej stated in an editorial: "Qatar has begun to reap [the fruits] of its wrong and illogical policy. Its behavior, which in many cases was frivolous, placed it in an unenviable state of isolation and a political and moral crisis. This is a bitter harvest for Qatar and its policy. What is needed today is for [our] sister country to look at itself and at its experience, to draw conclusions, and to learn lessons, [asking itself]: How has this policy benefited Qatar and Qataris, and has it been at all beneficial to our region, aside from [causing] this unwarranted mess? Qatar [is like a bird that] strayed from its flock and flew into a zone that does not belong to it, leaving [its flock] behind... This was and remains a dangerous precedent in the relations among the countries, because Qatar has violated all diplomatic norms, and has been rash, treating its [natural] environment with condescension. This is what has brought it to this bitter harvest."[15]


GCC goes one way, Qatar the other. (Source: 'Okaz, Saudi Arabia, March 6, 2014)

Qatar's Response: "We Are Subordinate To No One"; We Are Implementing An Independent Policy So As Not To Be Historically Marginalized

Qatar, for its part, rejected the accusations that it was harming Gulf security and insisted that it was entitled to its own independent policy even though it is a GCC member country. Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled bin Muhammad Al-'Attiyah said that the ambassador recall had nothing to do with Gulf security and everything to do with Saudi, UAE, and Bahraini foreign policy. He said that his country's foreign policy was independent and neither externally influenced nor based on the perception of a "resistance axis" versus a "moderate axis" that prevails in the region, adding: "The independence of Qatar's foreign policy is non-negotiable. Although we are saddened by recent [Saudi, UAE, and Bahraini] statements, we are entitled to our own policy and our own individual viewpoint, and to our own independent decisions. Qatar has chosen not to be historically marginalized but to play a major part in world affairs, to maintain relations with other countries, and to mediate conflicts..."[16]

The Qatari press emphasized that the Saudis were leading the UAE and Bahrain in an attempt to compel Qatar, which is maintaining an independent policy as well as preserving regional interests, into adopting a policy like theirs. The March 7 edition of the daily Al-Raya featured the headline "We Are Subordinate To No One... This Is Qatar," and stated in its lead article: "Qatar rejects dictates, guidelines, instructions, and counsel from any element"; "Qatar does the most to preserve the security, political, and social interests of the GCC members and their peoples"; "The move by our three sister countries has nothing to do with the interests of the Gulf peoples."[17]


Headline of March 7, 2014 issue of Qatari daily Al-Raya: "We Are Subordinate To No One... This Is Qatar"

In its March 7 editorial, the Qatar-owned London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, which has been highly critical of Saudi Arabia, wrote that the latter had failed in its policies and is now trying to force Qatar into a similar policy. It said: "The violent decision and threat to harden the position against Qatar... attests to the collapse of the Saudi policy that fails to acknowledge the massive change in the world... The Saudis are demanding that Qatar adapt its foreign policy to that of Saudi Arabia and that Qatar bear responsibility for Saudi Arabia's dangerous decisions regarding Egypt and the entire Arab region. This demand is accompanied by a heavy political and moral cost, borne first and foremost by the Saudi people itself and [afterwards] by the other peoples in the region."

The paper added: "Understanding the decision [to recall the ambassadors] requires an understanding of the Saudi strategy in the historical context. Since the 1950s or even earlier, Saudi Arabia has considered the Arab Gulf countries its own back yard, and they are forced, willy-nilly, into a policy that is right for Saudi Arabia, whether or not it aligns with the Gulf countries' real decisions and interests. In order to force this on its neighbors, Saudi Arabia has used its geopolitical size, its balanced economy, and its special religious status as the land of the two holy shrines and a pilgrimage site...

"The Gulf countries, with their limited capabilities, have attempted to stand up to Saudi policy... [this attempt] created constant tension between the kingdom and its neighbors... But the current crisis has an existential aspect that surpasses previous conflicts, and is connected to the earthquake of the Arab revolutions and the dangers they pose to tyrannical conservative governments."

The paper stated further, "The roots of the Qatari-Saudi conflict go back to the Saudis' attempted annexation of Qatar in the early 20th century, when they claimed that it was part of the Ihsaa Governorate in eastern Saudi Arabia, and since then, Saudi Arabia has taken other violent steps against Qatar..."[18]

In contrast to the Qatari line of reasoning, prominent Egyptian human rights activist Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim, the head of the Ibn Khaldoun Center in Cairo, said, following his recent meeting in Qatar with Sheikha Mozah, wife of the former Qatari Emir, that the Sheikha seeks to smooth the tension between Qatar and Egypt before it spreads and leads to hatred between the Egyptian and Qatari peoples. He added that Al-Jazeera TV and International Union of Muslim Scholars head Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi – who had been voicing loud support for the MB movement – were briefed accordingly and instructed to tone down their rhetoric. (Indeed, in recent weeks, Al-Qaradhawi has uncharacteristically not been the Friday prayer leader at the main Doha mosque). Al-Qaradhawi has also said that Qatar is encouraging the MB officials in its territory to depart for Turkey.[19]


Qatar's positions are an immovable wall (Source: Al-Raya, Qatar, March 7, 2014)


"The GCC Without Qatar" (Source: Al-Watan, Qatar, March 9, 2014)

The Main Accusations Against Qatar

Qatar Is Providing Economic And Media Support To Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood

One of the main reasons for the tension between the countries is Qatar's support for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

Relations between Egypt and Qatar have broken down since the toppling of the MB regime on July 3, 2013. The current Egyptian regime, which enjoys political and economic support from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, accused Qatar of interfering in Egypt's internal affairs by using Qatari media outlets, chiefly Al-Jazeera, as a pulpit for incitement against it, and by sponsoring Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, who lives in Qatar and calls for supporting the MB. Following the tension between Egypt and Qatar, the former recalled its ambassador in early February, and the ambassador has yet to return to Qatar.[20]


Egyptian protestors ripping a Qatari flag embellished with a Star of David in front of the Qatari Embassy in Cairo (source: Al-Ahram, Egypt, December 1, 2013)

The Saudi and UAE press featured multiple condemnations of Qatar over its support for the MB. The director of Al-Arabiya TV, 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, wrote recently: "The most dangerous Qatari escapade was its insistence on funding MB [activity] against the new regime in Egypt. [But] even with three TV channels, it still could not shake the Egyptian street, which supports the Al-Sisi regime!"[21] According to press reports, Saudi Arabia threatened to impose a land and sea blockade on Qatar unless it complied with its demands, including the demands to sever its ties with the MB, shut down the MB-supporting Al-Jazeera channel, and expel Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi from the country.[22]

A source close to the Qatari government admitted that the main cause of the current tension was Qatar's "financial and media" support for the Egyptian MB. The source stated that Qatar would not submit to pressure aimed at changing its foreign policy "whatever the cost," and that Qatar would not cease hosting MB members, including Al-Qaradhawi.[23] An investigative report in the Qatari daily Al-Raya stated that Qatar "does not support the MB and is not helping it implement any plan against any country. However, at the same time, it is not hostile to the MB, but treats all shades of the Egyptian people equally." It added that Qatar's support for the Egyptian people was not dependent on any particular regime or faction being in power, because most of the Qatari aid and efforts in support of the Egyptian people were not during the MB era. The report likewise noted that Qatar's "father Emir, Sheikh Hamid bin Khalifa Al-Thani, was the first Arab leader to visit Egypt after its revolution, four months after it broke out, when the one in charge of matters of state [in Egypt] at that time was the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces headed by Muhammad Hussein Tantawi..."[24]

The Al-Raya daily stated in an editorial: "To be clear, the dispute centers on the gap between the positions of [the three] countries and Qatar vis-à-vis the events in Egypt. Qatar has said in the past that it stands by the peoples and that it will never be hostile towards a group or a people simply to gain favor with the rulers. Therefore, it is Qatar's right to support whomever it pleases and host whomever it pleases from among those whose countries were too small to accommodate them, [and it does this] out of its friendly, humane and religious outlook, and without it being a threat or an act of interference in the affairs of any Gulf country..."[25]

Against the backdrop of this tension, Egypt welcomed the news that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE were recalling their ambassadors from Qatar. Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr 'Abd Al-'Atti said that "the decision reflects these sister countries' opposition to and reservations regarding Qatar's positions and policy. They decided to deliver a message similar to [the one delivered by] Egypt on numerous occasions in the past when it demanded [that Qatar and other countries] commit to the principle of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other countries and respect the sovereignty [of these countries] and the will of their peoples." He added that this move proves what Egypt has indicated many times, namely that the current conflict is not between it and Qatar but rather between Qatar and most Arab countries, and therefore Qatar should distance itself from positions and policies that deepen the schism and division in the Arab ranks. In a phone call during a show on Egyptian Al-Tahrir TV, 'Abd Al-'Atti said that Egypt has decided not return its ambassador to Qatar until the latter meets all of Egypt's demands.[26]

Al-Qaradhawi's Sermons – The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back

In addition, Qatar was accused of supporting elements close to the Egyptian MB in the Gulf countries.[27] Specifically, it was condemned for harboring MB activists who seek to harm Gulf security and for providing a pulpit for their attacks against sister Gulf countries via its media outlets, chiefly Al-Jazeera. The countries also mentioned Qatar's connection to the MB terrorist cell that was discovered in the UAE in September 2012.[28]

The editor of the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, Ahmad Al-Jarallah, who supported the recall of the ambassadors, wrote: "Does Qatar not know that shared destiny requires a shared path... especially in light of the sensitive regional situation, which offers no options for holding the stick at both ends? Instead of fortifying its own home, Qatar embraced the MB, making it its spoiled protégé – as [the MB] works to destroy the Gulf countries. They [the MB] are not settling for Egypt, Tunisia, or Libya, because their plan cannot be realized without strong financial support – that is, without taking over the Gulf countries. Therefore, once they took over the regime in Egypt, they activated their cells in the [Gulf] countries, under Qatari sponsorship."

Jarallah continued: "When [Saudi King] 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz presents proof and documents to Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, in the presence of [Kuwaiti] Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad, that Qatar was involved in several incidents that harmed GCC security; when the UAE presents evidence and documents on Qatari participation in terrorist cells that were exposed in its territory; and when Bahrain complains that Qatari intelligence is involved in terrorism in their kingdom – and when Doha does nothing to solve the problem – this certainly arouses suspicions..."[29]

The sermons of Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, who is based in Qatar and supports the MB, exacerbated tension between the countries, particularly between Qatar and the UAE, after he criticized the latter in a January 24, 2014 sermon that aired on official Qatari TV. In the sermon, Al-Qaradhawi condemned the UAE's policy towards political Islam activists in its territory, saying: "The UAE objects to any Islamic regime and arrests all its supporters."[30] Qaradhawi's statements caused fury in the UAE, and its officials rushed to condemn them on social media. For example, UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash tweeted: "It is a disgrace that we permit Qaradhawi to continue harming the UAE and relations in the Arab Gulf."[31]


(Source: Twitter.com/AnwarGargash, January 24, 2014)

Some two weeks after Al-Qaradhawi's sermon, the Qatari foreign minister said on Qatari TV that "Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi's statements do not express Qatar's policy." According to him, "Qatar's foreign policy is always conducted via the nation's official channels, and not via the media or from the pulpits of various preachers."[32] Qatar saw this as an apology for Al-Qaradhawi's sermon, but the UAE felt differently, and its foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, summoned the Qatari ambassador to express his protest.[33]

Following this tension between Qatar and the other Gulf countries, articles in the Arab press noted the "explosive" nature of these sermons by Al-Qaradhawi, and predicted that they would have a devastating impact on the future of relations between Qatar and those countries. The editor of the online daily Al-Rai Al-Yawm and former editor of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi, 'Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan, wrote in a February 21, 2014 editorial that Al-Qaradhawi's "fiery sermon will consume what is left of the relations between Qatar and its neighbors, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, and will trigger immediate penalties against Qatar, considering the existing tension." He even wrote that "Al-Qaradhawi's 'fiery' sermon would go down in modern Arab political history as the sermon that caused the collapse of the Gulf Cooperation Council in its known, traditional form."[34]

An editorial in the official UAE daily Al-Ittihad also predicted a worsening of relations following Al-Qaradhawi's sermon, and saw it as proof of the Qatari Emir's failure to uphold the Riyadh Agreement: "What Qaradhawi recently said shows that there is a large gap between commitments and promises given in official meetings and action on the ground. This [gap] affects the reliability of Gulf elements that support such views and efforts, which have no purpose other than fitna, and only strive to break the Arab ranks."[35]

Al-Jazeera And Other Qatari Media Are Working To Destabilize The Region

The three countries also criticized the Qatari media, accusing it of serving the Muslim Brotherhood and working to destabilize the region. The criticism was directed especially at Al-Jazeera and at the daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, which was recently purchased by Qatar and whose renowned editor, 'Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan, was fired. An article in the Saudi daily 'Okaz claimed that "the policy of the Qatari media, headed by Al-Jazeera, has never expressed any Gulf or Arab interest. In fact, it has regularly sparked conflicts, incited anarchy, and called for division. This is definitely a [deliberate] method that is firmly and consistently dictated by a certain policy, because it serves goals that are certainly not those of the Arabs or the Gulf."[36]

In an article in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, columnist 'Abd Al-'Aziz Qassem called on his Qatari colleagues to stop slamming Saudi Arabia: "The media outlets funded by Qatar attack us day and night. One example is the daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, which, since [the dismissal of its former editor,] 'Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan, has increased its corrupt [attacks on us] and arguments [with us], though we have kept silent over these juvenile acts... I hope my colleagues, the [Qatari] journalists, put an end to this invective that we read in certain papers, especially in Qatari papers that let anyone [who wants to] scream [abuse] at us. The Gulf media must not be dragged into a media war... We, the peoples of the Gulf, must ponder this political problem and its implications... for, even if our leaderships are currently in dispute, tomorrow they will reach an agreement..."[37]

An Al-Watan column by Hassan Al-Harithi stated that Qatar's policy has been hijacked by the popular Al-Jazeera channel. "Imagine Qatar without Al-Jazeera... Would it be as popular and [manage to create] such a commotion? Would it be at the center of events in the Arab [world]? Would it fly the Israeli flag over its soil? Would it support the MB and champion [the MB] as its cause? Would it violate the agreements between the GCC states?...

"It is thanks to Al-Jazeera that our sister state Qatar has become a shaper of public opinion and of developments in the region. This media apparatus is the source of its power. This power was supposed to serve Qatar and therefore also the region and [Qatar's] brothers [in the Gulf]... but, in practice, Qatar found itself hostage to [Al-Jazeera's] media orientation, and began to shape its political interests so as to serve the channel and its orientation.

"Qatar may deserve some credit for promoting media freedom in the Arab world since launching Al-Jazeera in the 1990s, and for producing high-quality media during this period. It has also played a prominent role in bringing the voice of the citizen back to the forefront. But since the fall of the MB [in Egypt], it has suddenly come out against the citizens. This has disrupted several balances, and [today, Qatar] no longer distinguishes between media that serves the policy and the good of the region and political exploitation intended to serve the media [itself]."[38]


Cartoon in UAE daily: "The MB" rides on the "dubious media" (source: Al-Bayan, UAE, March 7, 2014)

Unsurprisingly, the Qatari press rejected this criticism and claimed that it is the media of Saudi Arabia and the UAE that is inciting against Qatar. An article in the daily Al-Sharq, by columnist 'Abdallah Al-'Amadi, stated that the three countries that had recalled their ambassadors from Qatar actually feared Al-Jazeera's power and influence, especially considering their own media's lack of the same: "One of the reasons that motivated the three countries to recall their ambassadors was their great fear of Al-Jazeera's power to expose things, and the inability of other channels, which were established with the express goal of competing with Al-Jazeera, to influence [public opinion].

"When these three countries demanded that Qatar stop supporting 'hostile media,' meaning Al-Jazeera, they were forgetting what many media outlets and satellite channels supported by them do to Qatar, especially those in the UAE and Saudi Arabia."[39]


Cartoon in Qatari daily: Al-Jazeera has preponderant media influence (source: Al-Sharq, Qatar, March 9, 2014)

Qatar Is Wooing The Syria-Iran-Hizbullah Axis

Along with their criticism of Qatar's policy towards the Egyptian regime, the three countries also protested that it is showing excessive openness towards the pro-Iranian axis and deviating from the Gulf foreign policy on such issues as the Iranian nuclear dossier, the Syrian crisis, the relations with Hizbullah and the riots in Bahrain.[40] They also accused Qatar of supporting the Houthis in Yemen and terror organizations like Jabhat Al-Nusra in Syria.

The Gulf press slammed Qatar for deviating from Gulf policy in refraining from condemning Iran's policy in the region and even cooperating with it. Dubai deputy chief of police Dhahi Khalfan said to the Saudi online newspaper Al-Muwatin, referring to the reasons for the recalling of the ambassadors: "Qatar is conducting military maneuvers with Iran. Whom is it threatening with this joint action with Iran?" [41] Bahrain's information minister hinted that Qatar was involved in "dangerous plans" and supported "elements hostile to the Gulf states."[42] Political commentator Raghda Durgham wrote in the London-based Al-Hayat daily: "Qatar has never relinquished its traditional good relations with Iran, even though they disagree over the Syrian matter. Qatar, like Oman, has adhered to compliance with the Iranian demand to establish a new [comprehensive] security body that will include the GCC, Iran, and Iraq. This demand in effect requires the dismantling of the GCC."[43]

Experts speaking on Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam TV stated that Qatar and Saudi Arabia differed in their views on the Iranian issue, and that this has led them to a deep conflict, since Qatar wants to preserve its relations with Iran whereas Saudi Arabia opposes this.[44]

An article in the Saudi daily 'Okaz leveled harsh criticism at Qatar's policy vis-à-vis the pro-Iran axis, saying: "Qatar's foreign policy is conducted outside the circle of Gulf interests and independently of the Gulf apparatus. In fact, [Qatar] sometimes acts against the security, stability and peoples of the Gulf, including the stability and people of Qatar itself... It adopts dangerous foreign agendas that are aimed at sparking anarchy in the region and creating a state of comprehensive chaos and instability – [agendas] that are backed by the forces of extremism and [intended to harm] the countries and peoples in the region...

"Its slowness to condemn the Iranian actions aimed at harming the kingdom of Bahrain and all the region's countries, and its intensive [efforts towards] rapprochement with Iran, were among the reasons for the talks between the [Gulf] states [regarding their mutual relations].

"It seems that Qatar, as part of its [overall] policy, which we can neither understand nor interpret, is unwilling to give up its policy [vis-à-vis] Iran, despite clear evidence of Iran's blatant interference in the Gulf and in the Arab region [at large]. In addition, Qatar has begun to host and support all the elements and organizations acting against the security and stability of the region. It supports them with funds and with plans to ignite the entire region and divert it from [the path of] growth and development...

"We remember [Qatar's] involvement in the Lebanese crisis a few years ago [in 2006], and its unwavering support of Hizbullah. We also remember its support for the Houthis in Yemen and for dangerous terrorist organizations and streams in various parts of the world."[45]

As for the issue of the Syrian crisis, a source close to the Qatari government confirmed that it was one of the reasons for the tension between Qatar and the other Gulf states.[46] Whereas in the past Qatar was a full partner in the anti-Syria coalition, alongside Saudi Arabia and Turkey, for the past year Qatar and Turkey have become less voluble in their opposition to the Syrian regime. The Qatari Al-Raya daily stated that "Saudi Arabia feels that the rug has been pulled out from under it [with regard to the dealings with the Syrian regime] in light of the significant difference between the successful Qatari diplomacy in handling these kinds of issues and the failed Saudi diplomacy in obtaining any progress whatsoever in the Syrian issue, which has even caused regression and great deterioration in the issue..."[47]

Syrian officials and sources close to the Syrian regime confirmed recently that Qatar has signaled its desire to renew the relations between the two countries, after it severed these relations in 2011 in support of the protests against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. The pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported in November 2013 that Assad had received a "package of suggestions" from the Qatari Emir, which included an offer to stop Al-Jazeera's media campaign against this regime and to fund Syria's reconstruction.[48]

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allem confirmed to the Syrian parliament that Qatar was trying to improve relations with Syria.[49] However, statements by Syrian officials, including Assad, indicate that the Syrian regime has thus far spurned these efforts. According to the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, Assad is treating the Qatari initiative with great caution and told the bearers of the Qatari messages that "Qatar's conduct vis-à-vis Syria in the last two years caused Syrian blood to be spilled" and that "Qatar's problem is not just with the [Syrian] state but also with the Syrian people."[50] Al-Mu'allem expressed a similar position in statements he made to the Syrian parliament in March 2014.[51]

Qatar's attempts at rapprochement include Hizbullah as well. In a December 3, 2013 interview with the Lebanese OTV channel, Nasrallah disclosed that he had met with a Qatari envoy, and said that the Qatari leadership has lately been discussing and rethinking various strategic and political issues. Nasrallah mentioned Qatar's involvement in late 2013 in a deal to free nine Shi'ite hostages held by a Syrian rebel group in northern Lebanon, and said that this good-faith gesture had "opened the door" to renewed relations between Hizbullah and Qatar. He added, however, that the relations had been renewed amid continued disagreements between the two sides on the Syrian issue.[52] Qatar's ambassador to Beirut met with Hizbullah's deputy secretary-general Na'im Qassem on December 15, 2013.[53]

Qatar Is Working In The Service Of The U.S. And Israel

As part of the criticism against it, Qatar was also accused of serving foreign agendas, including those of the U.S. and Israel.[54] Political commentator Raghda Durgham wrote that "the GCC is in a state of crisis, disputes, and disintegration. All these are what Iran and Israel, and perhaps the U.S., need." She added that the GCC countries need to know the U.S.'s position, and that they must examine "whether it supports dismantling the GCC and sees this dismantling as a tool by means of which it will be able to please Iran."[55]

Columnist Khaled bin Fayhan Al-Za'tar stated in the Saudi government daily Al-Jazirah that Iran and the U.S. have a shared goal of dismantling the GCC. The U.S., he wrote, "wants to thrust the Arab Spring into the Gulf [states] so that their situation becomes similar to that of Tunisia, Libya and other countries. [This], in order to make it easier [for the U.S.] to later implement its New Middle East plan for dismantling the region and re-dividing it. The American embassy's interference in Bahrain's affairs, [manifest in] its expressions of solidarity and its demand to respect human rights and carry out reforms, are the best proof of this..."[56] In an article in the Saudi Al-Watan, columnist 'Abd Al-'Aziz Qasim called Qatar "the spearhead of the U.S. plan to promote constructive chaos in the region and redraw the existing map..."[57]

Columnist 'Abdallah Farraj Al-Sharif wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Madina: "When the revolutions of change that the West calls 'the Arab Spring' broke out, Qatar attempted to help the [rebelling] peoples by cooperating with the U.S. This raised suspicion regarding these revolutions, even though everyone knew that those seeking the change had nothing to do with these suspicions. The suspicions pertained to those who exploited the revolutions to promote their own interests, including the West and [especially] the U.S., which heads [the West's] imperialist political forces. When the change occurred in Egypt, we saw Qatar trying to interfere in Egypt's internal affairs by means of [the Al-Jazeera] channel, attempting to support [one] political group rather than the other, in a bid to promote Western interests and implement known Western plans to carve up the Arab countries that are undergoing the Arab Spring. [The name 'Arab Spring' only] deceives these peoples and has nothing to do with the season of spring, which in our part of the world tends to be mild..."[58]


Qatar leading the Arab states to Hell in the service of the U.S. and Israel (source: Al-Shahed, Kuwait, March 7, 2014)


Qatar operates terrorist organizations in the service of the U.S. and Israel (source: Al-Shahed, Kuwait, March 9, 2014)

* Y. Yehoshua is Vice President of Research and Director of MEMRI Israel; Y. Admon and R. Hoffman are research fellows at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1043, Saudi Arabia, Oman Trade Accusations As Attempts To Advance Gulf Union Fail Once Again December 16, 2013.

[2] Elaph.com, November 13, 2013.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 6, 2014; Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 24, 2013.

[4] Al-Iqtisadiya (Saudi Arabia), March 6, 2014.

[5] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 6, 2014.

[6] Al-Arab (London), February 19, 2014.

[7] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 6, 2014.

[8] Elaph.com, March 5, 2014.

[9] Al-Bayan (UAE), March 6, 2014.

[10] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 6, 2014.

[11] Al-Raya (Qatar), March 6, 2014.

[12] Al-Arab (Qatar), March 6, 2014.

[13] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 6, 2014. See also 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 7, 2014.

[14] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 6, 2014.

[15] Al-Khalij (UAE), March 6, 2014.

[16] Al-Raya (Qatar), March 11, 2014.

[17] Al-Raya (Qatar), March 7, 2014.

[18] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 7, 2014.

[19] Al-Hayat TV (Egypt), March 6, 2014.

[20] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 4, 2014.

[21] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 5, 2014.

[22] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 11, 2014.

[23] Al-Raya (Qatar), March 7, 2014. An editorial of the daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi also stated that the real reason for the current crisis was Qatar's financial support and media support – via Al-Jazeera TV – for the Egyptian MB and its opposition to the military coup there. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 7, 2014.

[24] Al-Raya (Qatar), March 7, 2014.

[25] Al-Raya (Qatar), March 6, 2014.

[26] Al-Watan (Egypt), March 6, 2014.

[27] Al-Arabiya (Saudi Arabia), March 5, 2014.

[28] In September 2012, UAE authorities announced the arrest of 61 MB activists accused of establishing a secret cell that aimed to bring down the UAE regime. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 2, 2012. In 2013, the suspects stood trial and were given various sentences; one of them, a Qatari, was sent to prison. Al-Emarat Al-Yawm (UAE), March 4, 2014.

[29] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), March 8, 2014.

[30] Elaph.com, January 25, 2014.

[31] Dubai Deputy Police Chief Dhahi Khalfan, who is known as a MB opponent, posted several anti-Qaradhawi tweets, in which he called him "the sheikh of fitna." He further wrote: "What you do, Qaradhawi, is a disgrace. We and Qatar were family before you set foot in Doha." Twitter.com/Dhahi_Khalfan, January 25, 2014.

[32] Al-Sharq (Qatar), February 1, 2014.

[33] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 3, 2014. In response, Qatar prevented Al-Qaradhawi from delivering Friday sermons for three weeks. When he next delivered a sermon, Al-Qaradhawi attacked the Egyptian regime. He apologized for his absence from the pulpit and claimed it was due to illness. He added that liars had used his absence to make false claims, and said: "As long as I am alive and have a thinking mind, a speaking tongue, and a moving body, I will continue to deliver sermons and tell the truth." He said that he was not hostile to any country or person, even if they are infidels. Al-Raya (Qatar), February 22, 2014.

[34] Raialyoum.com,February 21, 2014.

[35] Al-Ittihad (UAE), February 23, 2014.

[36] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 7, 2014.

[37] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 10, 2014.

[38] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 8, 2014.

[39] Al-Sharq (Qatar), March 7, 2014.

[40]According to the electronic paper Al-Muwatin, one of the motivations for this ambassadors' recall was contacts between Doha and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, as well as meetings between a Qatari envoy and Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah. The daily also claimed that Qatar was funding the Iran-backed riots in Bahrain. Almowaten.net, March 5, 2014.

[41] Almowaten.net, March 5, 2014.

[42] Al-Hayat (London), March 7, 2014.

[43] Al-Hayat (London), March 14, 2014

[44] Fa.alalam.ir, March 7, 2014.

[45] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 7, 2014.

[46] Al-Raya (Qatar), Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 7, 2014.

[47] Al-Raya (Qatar), March 7, 2014.

[48] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 1, 2013.

[49]Al-Thawra (Syria), March 5, 2014.

[50] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 1, 2013.

[51] Al-Thawra (Syria), March 5, 2014.

[52] Http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5IC9c_bcmo; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), December 17, 2013. The Lebanese media, chiefly Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, also reported a turnaround in Qatar's relations with this organization. According to the reports, the turnaround began in September-October 2013, with the deal to free the nine Shi'ite hostages, which Qatar had promoted, including by providing a large sum of money. Al-Akhbar stated that Qatar wishes to renew its relations with Hizbullah without tying this to the Syrian crisis. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), October 19, 30, 2013. The daily also reported that Hizbullah had demanded that Qatar take tangible measures to demonstrate the change in its position towards the Hizbullah-Syria-Iran axis. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 28, 2013.

[53] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), December 17, 2013.

[54] The Saudi electronic paper Sabq reported that Saudi Arabia had refused the involvement of certain countries in the crisis, including the U.S., on the grounds that the solution "must come from the brothers in the Gulf." Sabq.org, March 7, 2014.

[55] Al-Hayat (London), March 14, 2014.

[56] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), March 7, 2014.

[57] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 10, 2014.

[58] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), March 8, 2014.