What seems clear is that the Gulf states want to beat their brother to line and they are ready to go to all lengths including diplomatic isolation, brutal blockade, starvation and if necessary, economic strangulation. A coup may not be out of place. The UAE has threatened its citizens who may express sympathy for Qatar with a 15-year jail or a $136,000 fine.
Terrorism rules the world today. In the past one week, there have been three attacks in different parts of the world. Just two days ago (June 7), two symbols of Iranian life – its parliament and the tomb of revered revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, were attacked with at least a dozen persons killed. A day earlier, a man carrying an hammer attacked the police at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and was shot. He claimed to be striking a blow for the extremists in Syria. On Saturday June 3, three men drove a bus against pedestrians on the London Bridge before attacking people in the streets with knives. Eight persons were killed and 48 injured in this attack. Earlier on May 22, a man had bombed the Manchester Arena in Britain, killing 22, with 64 injured.
Given the fast pace of attacks and the harvest of deaths, most of humanity are on edge over terrorism, so not a few eyebrows were raised on Tuesday when leaders of the Gulf countries found their brother, Qatar, guilty of terrorism. They claimed that it “embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and al Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly.”
Yes, Qatar supports terrorist groups like the Jabha al-Nusra in Syria and was a supporter of the Islamic State (ISIS). But so did its accusers like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirate (UAE). Qatar and its accusers are the same countries that funded ISIS and pressurised the United States (US) under Barack Obama to provide air support for these groups against the al-Assad government in Damascus. Qatar is also in the alliance of the Gulf countries which have been bombing civilian and military targets in helpless Yemen, where even social activities like marriages and funerals are considered by the Gulf States as legitimate targets. That is why it is important to look beyond the accusation of terrorism. Qatar has been loyal to both Saudi Arabia, the class monitor in the Arab World, and their overall master, the US, which has a major military base, the al-Udeid Air Base with 10,000 troops, in Qatar. It a small gas-rich country with a population of 2.6 million made up 313,000 Qatari and 2.3 expatriates. This makes it easier to be bullied by its bigger brothers, Saudi Arabia with 31.7 million people, the UAE with 9.157, and Egypt with 91.5 million people.
The first problem of Qatar with its brothers is not portraying Iran, the centre of Shitte followership, as the Devil’s Empire. In fact, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had on May 27 called to congratulate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on his re-election. The second is that Qatar is not seen to have backed away from Hamas, the Palestinian Liberation Front, which has stood up to Israel insisting on a two-state solution which would see the peaceful co-existence of the Israeli and Palestinian states. To worsen matters, Qatar does not seem to have read the handwriting on the wall even after mighty America had declared Hamas, a ‘terrorist organisation.’
Thirdly, all the countries involved are allergic to free speech; this is understandable as they are either monarchies, or as in the case of Egypt, is ruled by the military. They cannot understand how one of their own would allow an international media like Aljazeera to blossom and try to present some balanced news. Egypt under General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had banned the station from running in the country, and routinely detains Aljazeera staff. On December 29, 2013, three Aljazeera journalists, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were seized by the el-Sisi regime and sentenced to seven to 10 years imprisonment. Grete was released in February 2015, and the others some months later. On December 20, another journalist from the station, Mahmoud Hussein, an Egyptian who was on holidays was seized; he remains in detention.
If the Gulf States can be so vicious and brutal to their brother, Qatar, Africans and other peoples can imagine how the Saudi coalition will deal with them if they cross paths.
A related issue is that of the Muslim Brotherhood whose government led by Muhammed Morsi, was overthrown by el-Sisi on July 23, 2013. To Qatar, it is intolerable that a country will take the lives of its citizens at will just because they are considered to be in opposition, but to the Saudi coalition, by sheltering some members of the Brotherhood, Qatar is violating the internal rules of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, better known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
In a November 23, 2016 agreement, the GCC had vowed to rise against “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals – via direct security work or through political influence; and not, to support hostile media.” To the Saudi coalition, Qatar’s alleged support of the Muslim Brotherhood, threatens the security of Egypt, and Aljazeera is an ‘hostile’ media.
Also, Saudi Arabia has risen to be an enforcer of American interests in the Arab world; this role of a policeman which Israel has played over the decades, is not being recognised by Qatar which still talks about national sovereignty.
Initially when the Gulf States descended on Qatar, America tried to play a reconciliatory role. Secretary of State, Rex Wayne Tillerson urged the Arab countries to sort out their differences. But his comments were soon drowned by those of President Donald Trump who tweeted: “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!…So 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!”
What seems clear is that the Gulf states want to beat their brother to line and they are ready to go to all lengths including diplomatic isolation, brutal blockade, starvation and if necessary, economic strangulation. A coup may not be out of place. The UAE has threatened its citizens who may express sympathy for Qatar with a 15-year jail or a $136,000 fine. The Philippines and factions of the regimes in Yemen and Libya have also enlisted in the anti-Qatar coalition. It may further spread. If the Gulf States can be so vicious and brutal to their brother, Qatar, Africans and other peoples can imagine how the Saudi coalition will deal with them if they cross paths.
Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.