Saturday, 17 June 2017

QATAR: Qatar Diplomatic Crisis And Its Effects

The 2017 Qatar diplomatic crisis occurred as a result of several countries abruptly cutting off diplomatic relations with Qatar.

These countries included Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. The severing of relations included withdrawing ambassadors, and imposing trade and travel bans.

Saudi Arabia and other countries have criticized Al Jazeera and Qatar's relations with Iran, and accused Qatar of funding terrorist organizations. Qatar denied that it supports terrorism, given that it has assisted the United States in the War on Terror and the ongoing military intervention against ISIL.

Saudi Arabia's actions were verbally supported by United States President Donald Trump. Many countries in the region, including Turkey, Russia and Iran, called for the crisis to be resolved through peaceful negotiations.

Qatar has had differences with other Arab governments on a number of issues: it broadcasts Al Jazeera; it is accused of maintaining good relations with Iran; and it has supported the Muslim Brotherhood in the past.Qatar is an American ally, hosting the largest American base in the Middle East, Al Udeid Air Base.

The countries withdrawing diplomatic relations accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism, of interfering with their internal affairs and of maintaining relations with Iran.Qatar denies allegations that it supported terrorism, and pointed out that it has been contributing to the U.S.-led fight against ISIL.

Qatar maintains relatively good relations with Iran. Qatar and Iran share ownership of South Pars / North Dome Gas-Condensate field,by far the world's largest natural gas field, with significant geostrategic influence.

In April 2017, after a 12-year freeze, Qatar lifted a self-imposed ban on developing the gas field with Iran,which would require cooperation between the two countries.According to Jim Krane, energy research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, Qatar used to be a kind of Saudi vassal state, but it used the autonomy that its gas wealth created to carve out an independent role for itself.

Above all, gas prompted Qatar to promote a regional policy of engagement with Shiite Iran to secure the source of its wealth.Since he took power in 1995, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani believed Qatar could find security only by transforming itself from a Saudi appendage to a rival of Saudi Arabia.

The crisis has turned into a proxy battle between partners and adversaries of Iran and Qatar invests billions of dollars in the U.S. and Europe and then recycles the profits to support Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and groups linked to al Qaeda.

Qatar hosts the American military base from which the U.S. directs its regional war against extremism, yet it also owns media networks responsible for inciting many of the same extremists.

Qatar has tried to cultivate good relations with countries and organizations that are at odds with each other.To establish a massive base for the US military on its territory, while at the same time flirting with Iran; to fight terror, but fund the Islamic State and the Al-Nusra Front in Syria.

But Qatar failed to understand that the new regional power, now more than ever, is Saudi Arabia.

Qatar also used its contacts to help negotiate peaceful exchanges of hostages for the safe evacuation of civilians from areas affected by the Syrian Civil War.However, Qatar also sent its forces to fight against alleged Iranian-backed militias in the current Yemeni Civil War and has supported rebels fighting the Iranian-allied government of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War.

Qatar has supported the Muslim Brotherhood in the past.Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies see the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat, as it ideologically opposes hereditary rule.The government of Egypt has long viewed the Muslim Brotherhood as "enemy number one".

In 2011, during the Arab Spring, Qatar supported the Egyptian protesters agitating for change, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. By contrast, Saudi Arabia supported Hosni Mubarak and currently supports Abd El-Fattah El-Sisi since the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état.

Qatar has been accused of sponsoring terrorism.Some countries have faulted Qatar for funding rebel groups in Syria, including al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front,although the Saudis have done the same.Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been involved in the CIA–led Timber Sycamore covert operation to train and arm Syrian rebels.

Qatar has hosted officials from the Afghan Taliban and Hamas. Qatar defends this move by saying it is trying to act as an intermediary in regional conflicts.For example, Qatar hosted talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in 2016.

On 27 May 2017, the newly-reelected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani held a phone call with Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.Rouhani told Qatar's emir, the countries of the region need more cooperation and consultations to resolve the crisis in the region and we are ready to cooperate in this field.

Former US Defense Secretary and ex-CIA chief Robert Gates stated in May 2017 that he does not know instances in which Qatar aggressively goes after (terror finance) networks of Hamas, Taliban, Al-Qaeda,and that My attitudes toward Al-Udeid and any other facility is that the United States military doesn’t have any irreplaceable facility.

Qatar hosts the largest American base in the Middle East, the Al Udeid Air Base, which has been used by the United States in its campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

In 2002, Saudi Arabia removed their ambassador from Qatar over Al Jazeera's alleged critical stance towards Saudi Arabia. Diplomatic relations were re-established in 2008, after assurances that Al Jazeera would limit its coverage of Saudi Arabia.

In March 2014, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates removed their ambassadors from Qatar, citing interference with their internal affairs, but the situations were eventually defused after Qatar forced Brotherhood members to leave the country eight months later.

In February 2015, Egypt–Qatar relations deteriorated after the Egyptian Air Force conducted airstrikes on suspected ISIL positions in neighboring Libya following the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians.The airstrikes were condemned by Al Jazeera, who broadcast images of civilian casualties.

Additionally, Qatar's foreign ministry expressed reservations over the airstrikes. This prompted Tariq Adel, Egypt's Arab League delegate, to accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism. Egyptian citizens also launched an online campaign denouncing the Qatari government.

The Gulf Cooperation Council rejected Egypt's accusations and its secretary general regarded the statements to be false.Shortly after, Qatar recalled its ambassador to Egypt for "consultations".

The exact reasons for the diplomatic break-offs are unclear, but contemporary news coverage primarily attributes this to several events in April and May 2017.

In April 2017, Qatar was involved in a deal with both Sunni and Shi'ite militants in Iraq and Syria. The deal had two goals. The immediate goal was to secure the return of 26 Qatari hostages including Qatari royals who had been kidnapped by Shi'ite militants while falcon hunting in Southern Iraq and kept in captivity for more than 16 months.

The second goal was to get both Sunni and Shi'ite militants in Syria to allow humanitarian aid to pass through and allow the safe evacuation of civilians.This deal allowed the evacuation of at least 2,000 civilians from the Syrian village of Madaya alone.

What outraged Saudi Arabia and the UAE is the amount of money Qatar had to pay to secure the deal. According to the Financial Times Qatar paid $700 million to Iranian-backed Shi'a militias in Iraq, $120-140 million to Tahrir al-Sham, and $80 million to Ahrar al-Sham.

As part of the Riyadh Summit in late May 2017, many world leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump visited the region. Trump gave strong support for Saudi Arabia's efforts in fighting against states and groups allied with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to an arms deal between the countries. Trump's support may have induced other Sunni states to fall in line with Saudi Arabia to take a stance against Qatar.

The Qatar News Agency website and other government media platforms were allegedly hacked in May 2017. According to Qatar-based Al Jazeera, hackers posted fake remarks on the official Qatar News Agency attributed to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, that expressed support for Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel.

The emir was quoted as saying: Iran represents a regional and Islamic power that cannot be ignored and it is unwise to face up against it. It is a big power in the stabilization of the region.Qatar reported that the statements were false and did not know their origin.

Despite this, the remarks were widely publicized in the various Arab news media, including UAE-based Sky News Arabia and Al Arabiya.On 3 June 2017, the Twitter account of Bahraini foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa was hacked.

Initially alleged Intelligence gathered by the US security agencies indicated that Russian hackers were behind the intrusion first reported by the Qataris. However, a U.S. official briefed on the inquiry told the New York Times that it was unclear whether the hackers were state-sponsored and The Guardian diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour reported that it is believed that the Russian government was not involved in the hacks; instead, freelance hackers were paid to undertake the work on behalf of some other state or individual.

A U.S. diplomat said that Russia and its ally Iran stood to benefit from sowing discord among U.S. allies in the region, particularly if they made it more difficult for the United States to use Qatar as a major base.The FBI sent a team of investigators to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the hacking incident.

Later New York Times reported that the hacking incidents may be part of long running cyberwar between Qatar and other Gulf countries that was only revealed to the public during the recent incidents and they noted how Saudi and UAE media picked up the statement made by the hacked media in less than 20 minutes and began interviewing many well-prepared commentators against Qatar.

In May 2017, the email account of the UAE's ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Al-Otaiba, was hacked. The emails were seen as "embarrassing",because they allegedly showed links between the UAE and a pro-Israeli group, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The story was covered by Al Jazeera and HuffPost Arabi, both of which are funded by Qatar. Arab countries saw the media coverage of the alleged email hack as a provocation by Qatar, and deepened the rift between the two sides.

On 9 June, Al Jazeera's media network was the victim of a cyber attack across all its platforms.

A variety of diplomatic actions were taken. Saudi Arabia and the UAE notified ports and shipping agents not to receive Qatari vessels or ships owned by Qatari companies or individuals.Saudi Arabia closed the border with Qatar.Iran offered to send food shipments to Qatar.

Saudi Arabia restricted its airspace to Qatar Airways. Instead, Qatar has rerouted flights to Africa and Europe via Iran.Saudi Arabia's central bank advised banks not to trade with Qatari banks in Qatari riyals.

Qatar verbally criticized the ban. The Foreign Ministry of Qatar criticized the ban, arguing that it undermined Qatar's sovereignty.The foreign minister of Qatar, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, said that Saudi statements regarding Qatar were contradictory: on one hand, Saudi Arabia claimed Qatar was supporting Iran, on the other hand, it claimed Qatar was funding Sunni extremists fighting against Iran.

All GCC countries involved in the announcement ordered their citizens out of Qatar.Three Gulf states,Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave their countries.The foreign ministries of Bahrain and Egypt gave Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave their countries.Qatar was expelled from the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen.Kuwait and Oman remained neutral.

Kuwaiti mediators in Riyadh were presented with a list of Saudi demands to Qatar. These included cutting off all links with Iran and expelling resident members of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, curbs on the freedom of al-Jazeera, to stop “interfering” in foreign countries’ affairs and to cease any funding or support for terrorist organisations.

As of 10 June 2017, eight sovereign governments have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar.

- Bahrain

- Comoros

- Egypt

- Maldives

- Mauritania

- Saudi Arabia

- United Arab Emirates

- Yemen

The Tobruk-based government of Libya claimed to have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar despite having no diplomatic representation in that country.The government of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland announced on 10 June 2017 that it has cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in solidarity with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt.

As of 12 June 2017, six countries have downgraded diplomatic ties with Qatar without fully cutting relations.

- Chad

- Djibouti

- Eritrea

- Jordan

- Niger

- Senegal

Multiple countries and the United Nations called for the resolution of the diplomatic crisis through dialogue:

- Algeria

- Guinea

- India

- Indonesia

- Iran

- Morocco

- Russia

- Somalia

- Sudan

- Tunisia

- Turkey

- Pakistan

- United Kingdom

Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel expressed support for Qatar and criticized the severing of ties.He accused US President Donald Trump of stirring up conflict in the Middle East.

India said that it viewed the crisis as an internal matter of the Gulf Cooperation Council and was primarily concerned with the Indian expatriates in the region.

Indonesia foreign minister said the diplomatic disconnection by Arab countries against qatar is very influential on Indonesia. And Indonesia asks the state to break the ties with qatar to negotiate. Indonesian President Joko Widodo wants Indonesia to have a role in resolving the conflict in middle East, Jokowi admitted still finding out the point of the real problem before determining what steps can be done by Indonesia.

On June 10, 2017 Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo called the president of Turkey and amir Qatar to find a way to resolve the conflict considering Indonesia itself is an Islamic country and this conflict occurred in Ramadhan.

Israel said that the crisis opened up opportunities for cooperation in the fight against terrorism, claiming that the Arab countries that cut off their diplomatic relations with Qatar did not do so because of Israel or the Palestinian issue, but because of their fear of radical Islamic terrorism.

Reports that Mauritius had cut ties with Qatar were refuted by the Mauritian government.A report in the Saudi Gazette incorrectly stated that Mauritius had broken off ties with Qatar and that Mauritius' Vice Prime-Minister had issued a communiqué pledging his country's support for Saudi Arabia.

This prompted further erroneous reports by other outlets. However, Mauritian Vice Prime Minister Showkutally Soodhun in an interview with Le Défi Media Group of Mauritius refuted claims that he had issued any such communiqué, and Mauritius' Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that Mauritius continued to maintain diplomatic relations with Qatar.

Pakistan stated that it had no plans to cut diplomatic relations with Qatar.Member of the Parliament passed a resolution in National Assembly of Pakistan urging all countries to show restraint and resolve their differences through dialogue.Federal minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources said that Pakistan will continue to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar.

A six-member Qatari delegation headed by a special envoy of the Qatari Emir visited Pakistan and asked Pakistan to play a positive role in resolving the diplomatic crisis. Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan would do all it can to help resolve the crisis and called on the Muslim world to play a role in ending hostilities.TRT in a report said that Pakistan would deploy 20,000 troops in Qatar but the Foreign Office denied media report.

The Philippines suspended the deployment of migrant workers to Qatar on 6 June.However, on 7 June, they allowed the deployment of the returning workers and those with Overseas Employment Certificate, but still suspended the deployment of new workers. The suspension was later fully lifted on 15 June.

United States President Donald Trump claimed credit for engineering the diplomatic crisis in a series of tweets.On 6 June, Trump began by tweeting: "During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!"

An hour and a half later, he remarked on Twitter that it was "good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!

This was in contrast to attempts by the Pentagon and State department to remain neutral. The Pentagon praised Qatar for hosting the Al Udeid Air Base and for its "enduring commitment to regional security." U.S. Ambassador to Qatar, Dana Shell Smith, sent a similar message.

Earlier, the US Secretary of State had taken a neutral stance and called for dialogue.Qatar hosts about 10,000 U.S. troops at Al Udeid Air Base, which houses the forward operating base of United States Central Command that plays a commanding role in US airstrikes in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

A Pentagon spokesperson claimed the diplomatic crisis would not affect the US military posture in Qatar.On 8 June, President Donald Trump, during a phone call with the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, offered as a mediator in the conflict with a White House meeting between the parties if necessary.

The offer was declined, and Qatari official stated, The emir has no plans to leave Qatar while the country is under a blockade.

On 9 June, Trump once put the blame on Qatar, calling the blockade hard but necessary while claiming that Qatar had been funding terrorism at a very high level and described the country as having an extremist ideology in terms of funding.

This statement was in conflict with Secretary of State Tillerson's comments on the same day, which called on Gulf states to ease up the blockade.

In 13 June 2017 after meeting with Tillerson in Washington, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir stated that there was no blockade and what we have done is we have denied them use of our airspace, and this is our sovereign right and that the King Salman Centre for Humanitarian Aid and Relief would send food or medical aid to Qatar if needed.

On 7 June, the Turkish parliament passed, with 240 votes in favor and 98 against, a legislative act first drafted in May allowing Turkish troops to be deployed to a Turkish military base in Qatar.In 13 June 2017 during a speech, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the isolation of Qatar as inhumane and against Islamic values and that victimising Qatar through smear campaigns serves no purpose.

Gabon's foreign ministry also made a statement condemning Qatar for failing to respect international commitments and agreements on counter-terrorism.

On 8 June, Egypt's deputy U.N. Ambassador Ihab Moustafa called for the United Nations Security Council to launch an investigation into accusations that Qatar paid up to $1 billion to a terrorist group active in Iraq to free 26 Qatari hostages, including members of its royal family, which would violate U.N. resolutions.

The Qataris were kidnapped 16 December 2015 from a desert camp for falcon hunters in southern Iraq. The hostages were released eighteen months later in April 2017. Qatari diplomats responded to the Egyptian calls for an investigation by reaffirming their commitment to the U.N. resolutions towards eliminating the financing of terrorism.

Eritrea refused a request by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to cut relations with Qatar, citing its strong ties with the brother people of Qatar.On 12 June, however, they issuing a statement calling the isolation of Qatar one initiative among many in the right direction that envisages full realization of regional security and stability while not breaking off relations themselves.

The United Kingdom's foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, stated that Qatar needs to do more to stop the funding of extremist groups but also urged Gulf states to ease the blockade.

In June 2017, the government of Qatar hired American attorney and politician John Ashcroft to lobby on its behalf and rebut international allegations of supporting terror.

Amnesty International condemned the crisis and accused Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the (UAE) are toying with people's lives. James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Global Issues Programme, claimed These drastic measures are already having a brutal effect, splitting children from parents and husbands from wives.

People from across the region not only from Qatar, but also from the states implementing these measures risk losing jobs and having their education disrupted.

All the states involved in this dispute must ensure their actions do not lead to human rights violations. Amnesty International received reports from victims unable to visit their family members, students being standed and workers being unable to return to their jobs in opposing nations.

Norwegian Refugee Council expressed fears that the crisis would affect reconstruction in Palestine as Qatar is a major source of humanitarian and infrastructure aid to Palestine.

On 6 June 2017, Emirates Post of UAE, halted postal services to Qatar.

Nearly 80 percent of Qatar's food requirements come from Gulf Arab neighbors, with only 1 percent being produced domestically and even imports from outside the Gulf states usually crossing the now closed land border with Saudi Arabia.Immediately after the cutting of relations, local reports indicated residents swarmed grocery stores in hopes of stockpiling food.

Many food delivery trucks were idled along the Saudi-Qatari border. On 8 June 2017 Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said, We're not worried about a food shortage, we're fine. We can live forever like this, we are well prepared.

Qatar has been in talks with both Turkey and Iran to secure supply of water and food. On 11 June 2017 Iran sent four cargo planes with fruit and vegetables and promised to continue the supply.Turkey has pledged food and water supplies to go along with their troop deployment at their Turkish military base in Qatar.

Large airlines based in these countries, including Emirates, suspended flight service to Qatar.Gulf Air,EgyptAir,FlyDubai, Air Arabia, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Etihad Airways and Royal Air Maroc suspended their flights to and from Qatar.Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are also banning overflights by aircraft registered in Qatar.

Instead Qatar has rerouted flights to Africa and Europe via Iran.

Qatar Airways in response also suspended their flight operations to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain.

Pakistan International Airlines sent special flights to bring back over 200 Pakistani pilgrims stuck at Doha airport.Over 550 Pakistani pilgrims in Doha were subsequently flown to Muscat.

Private jet travel is also being impacted by the crisis. Business aviation officials said private flights between Qatar and the countries that cut diplomatic ties now need to make a technical stop in a third country.

Aircraft registered in Qatar cannot fly to the countries that cut diplomatic ties and vice versa. While business jet operators can request a nonstop routing, two officials said requests so far have been turned down necessitating a stop in a third country.

Due to the blockade of Qatar Airways from the airspace of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, Oman Air has taken up a significant role transporting travelers from and to Doha, mostly through Iranian airspace, while still allowing Qatar passport holders to book flights.

The travel embargo has had a significant impact on foreign nationals living and working in Qatar, with about 100'000 Egyptians and citizens from other countries stranded there, unable to book direct flights or obtain travel documents for their return.

Per request from Qatar, the blockade is currently under review by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN-agency seeking consensus-based solutions for the resolution of the crisis.

The United Arab Emirates banned Qatar-flagged ships from calling at Fujairah. It also banned vessels from Qatar from the port and vessels at the port from sailing directly to Qatar.Similar restrictions were put in place at Jebel Ali. Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia also banned Qatar-flagged ships from their ports.

On June 8,2017 shipping giant Maersk was unable to transport in or out of Qatar entirely. Due to Qatar's shallow ports, large cargo ships are required to dock at Jebel Ali or other nearby ports where a feeder service transports the goods into Qatar.

In response, Maersk and also Swiss-based MSC vessels for Qatar were rerouted to Salalah and Sohar in Oman.Particularly smaller shipments of perishable and frozen foods have taken that route.

On June 12, 2017, Chinese shipping company COSCO announced suspension of services to and from Qatar. Taiwan's Evergreen Marine and Hong Kong's Orient Overseas Container Line have already suspended services.

Hamad Saif al-Shamsi, the Attorney-General of the United Arab Emirates announced on 7 June that publishing expressions of sympathy towards Qatar through social media, or any type of written, visual or verbal form is considered illegal under UAE's Federal Penal Code and the Federal law on Combating Information Technology Crimes.

Violators of this offense face between 3 to 15 years imprisonment, a fine of up to 500,000 emirati dirhams ($136,000) or both.Bahrain also issued a similar statement with penalty up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE all blocked access to Qatari news agencies, including one of the most popular Arab news outlets, Qatar-based Al Jazeera.Saudi Arabia shut down the local office of Al Jazeera Media Network.The BBC speculated that changes to Al-Jazeera would be a necessary part of any peaceful resolution.

The International Monetary Fund said it was too soon to judge the economic impact of the diplomatic crisis.Standard & Poor's downgraded Qatar's debt by one notch from AA to AA- as the Qatari riyal fell to an 11-year low.Qatar's stock market dropped 7.3% on the first day of the crisis, and reached a 9.7% drop by 8 June.

As per S&P Global Ratings, banks in Qatar are strong enough to survive pull out of all Gulf country deposits.

Qatar is a global leader in liquefied natural gas production. Despite the severing of ties, Qatari natural gas continues to flow to the UAE and Oman through Abu Dhabi based Dolphin Energy's pipeline. The pipeline meets about 30-40 percent of UAE's energy needs.

Shipping constraints from the crisis have also rerouted multiple shipments of oil and gas to and from the Gulf, which has caused reverberations in many local energy markets. On 8 June 2017 United Kingdom, with nearly a third of all imported gas arriving from Qatar, gas futures spiked nearly 4 percent.

We pray that this crisis is sorted out soon and amicably.