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Bonfire of the vanities: Saudi demands expose fear and loathing of Qatar

Saudi-led alliance has list of 13 demands to end blockade on Qatar. Middle East Eye sifts their content
Egyptians burn Qatari flag in 2013 after counter-coup against Muslim Brotherhood (AFP)

Saudi Arabia and its allies have issued 13 demands for Qatar to meet if a blockade is to be lifted. The list shows their main concern is not Qatar's financing of terrorists and cosying up to Iran, but instead a combustible mix of existential fear and attempts to diminish Doha's influence and wealth.

Also clear, given the contradictions and incorrect claims, is that the list was prepared haphazardly after the international community and the Muslim world remained sceptical of Saudi and UAE motives for imposing the blockade on Qatar.

Notable for its absence is any demand regarding Hamas - the Palestinian group that Saudi Arabia and its allies have called "extremist" during the five weeks of diplomatic crisis.

Middle East Eye, which also finds itself targeted in the list, has sifted through each demand in detail, in order.

Demand 1: Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.   

The ties between Qatar and Iran are by no means those of allies. Qatar and Iran share a major natural gas field, which means Doha must maintain minimal ties with Tehran and cannot take the ultra-hawkish Saudi position.

Doha and Tehran are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. This is clearest in Syria, where Shia Muslim Iran backs the Assad government while Sunni Muslim Doha supports Turkish-backed rebel forces. In this light, it becomes difficult to give credence to claims of military cooperation between Doha and Tehran.  

As for trade, the UAE is one of Tehran's biggest trade partners. The UAE played a major role in helping Tehran bust US and international sanctions by facilitating a gold-for-oil deal. Recent media reports based on Turkish statistics indicate that this sanctions-busting gold trade could still be ongoing.  

Demand 2: Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence currently in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside of Qatar.

Turkey has taken pains to assure other Gulf countries that any Turkish military presence in the Gulf is not to threaten any of them but to provide a bulwark against unspecified "common threats", which could potentially include Iran, making the Saudi demand for withdrawal contrary to its own interests.

There are a few dozen Turkish troops in Doha. Seeing a tiny Turkish presence as a bigger threat than Iran's easy reach across the Gulf at any point also reveals the real motive of the demand is to wrest Qatar of its sovereignty.

For Doha to accept this demand would mean allowing interference in its sovereign affairs. Turkey, too, is unlikely to even entertain such thoughts, given its determination to not allow third-party meddling in its affairs.

Although highly unlikely, any decision on troop withdrawal from Turkey would come as a result of domestic pressure, where critics have been questioning the need for a Turkish base there since details of the deal began to emerge in 2014. Domestic critics have called the base a projection of the neo-Ottoman dreams held by the Turkish president.      

Turkish troops arrive in Doha (Reuters)

Demand 3:  Sever all ties to 'terrorist organisations' - specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities to be terrorist groups.

Doha might be the victim of its own ambitions and of Western betrayal here. Right from the post-9/11 days when Qatar agreed to the Afghan Taliban opening a representation office in Qatar with Western blessing, the tiny Gulf country looked to be the neutral venue where even the harshest of adversaries could meet and talk.

Qatar did not even recognise the Taliban between 1996 and 2001.

With the exception of IS and al-Qaeda, Doha has looked to maintain its role as a neutral and safe venue for potential talks by allowing the presence of representatives of movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood on its territory.

The Saudis and other Gulf countries view the Muslim Brotherhood as the main threat to their continued existence, but the international community – including Britain and the US - has strong reservations about designating the non-violent movement as "terrorist".

Doha is going to be hard-pressed to accept this demand, given that it even succeeded in convincing the Palestinian group Hamas to amend its charter and adopt a softer and more positive tone.  

Demand 4: Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.      

Qatar has rejected claims of such funding from the first moment they were made. No evidence has been provided of such funding.

Including the US in this demand indicates the tenuous nature of the claim. The US does not need the Saudi-led coalition to make demands on its behalf. The US recently signed a $22bn fighter jet deal with Qatar, something it would not do if it believed Qatar was an enemy, nor would it continue to base 10,000 US troops there.

Demand 5: Hand over 'terrorist figures' and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.

Again there is no indication that Qatar has refused to cooperate with its Gulf Cooperation Council members within the framework of existing agreements or bilateral agreements with these states, including extradition agreements.

It is a demand Qatar might find difficult to accept if it wants to continue its role as a neutral and fair interlocutor and venue for negotiations between various feuding factions, especially if they represent non-violent movements.

Demand 6: Shut down Al Jazeera and its affiliate stations.

Soon after its establishment, Qatar's state-funded Al Jazeera network quickly became the region's only broadcaster able to provide coverage on a par with its established Western counterparts. A huge budget and a drive to recruit the best journalists from around the globe increased its stature. 

The network's stance, however, often meant it was rejected both by the West as being too Muslim-focused and by the region's despots as inciting revolt.

In fairness to Saudi concerns, the network's Arabic-language channel has pushed a stronger line backing popular street movements in the region, making the Saudis, the Emiratis and others nervous.

The Al Jazeera network has reflected the view of the royal palace, and has been careful to tame its coverage of Yemen in Saudi Arabia's favour to reflect its neighbour's current anti-Iran policies. The channel's coverage of domestic issues, such as modern slavery, has been muted.

Al Jazeera's main studio in Doha (AFP)

Demand 7: End interference in sovereign countries' internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries' laws.  

A demand that is vague and will prove difficult to monitor even if it is the case. Conversely, the presentation of such a list of demands in itself can be construed as interference in Qatar's sovereign affairs.

Given the intricate family and tribal links between the nationals of Gulf countries, multiple citizenship is common and depriving citizenship rights to individuals without enough evidence to warrant it could lead to grave human rights violations.

Demand 8: Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar's policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.

Another vaguely and highly contestable demand. With no specific compensation sums or amount of financial loss mentioned, and also no concrete evidence, this is impossible for any independent state to accept.

Demand 9: Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.  

Qatar is already part of the Saudi-led Islamic military alliance. It is also a fully-integrated member of the GCC. Its economic interests as a major exporter of hydrocarbons means its economic direction is aligned with that of Saudi Arabia.

The only difference appears to be Doha's refusal to adopt the same tone as the Saudis on Iran because of its shared South Pars gas field, and Qatar's backing of popular democratic movements across the region, excluding the Gulf.

Still, this might prove to be one of the demands Doha will find easier and more practical to comply with if the blockade against it is lifted first.   

Demand 10: Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar's prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.

More signs of a hastily cobbled-together list of demands. Any political opposition in the mentioned countries are strictly monitored by these repressive governments. No evidence has been provided to justify claims of such Qatari actions.

There is little to indicate that Qatar would stand to gain by fomenting trouble in its own backyard. In fact, it would stand to lose as its routes to export natural gas, its biggest source of revenue, would be jeopardised.

Demand 11: Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.

MEE is an independently funded London-based news site dedicated to providing in-depth, impartial and factual coverage of the Middle East.

Reports from countries such as Turkey, Iraq and Syria show that MEE is dedicated to objectivity. It has not hesitated from critical reporting of Qatar allies including Turkey when provable by facts. It has not spared Qatar either, for instance MEE published a series of articles on the ill-treatment of foreign workers used to build its infrastructure.

MEE has also not shied away from covering issues of regional importance that place Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in a very poor light, resulting in access to the site being blocked in those countries and MEE becoming a target of their ire.  

Demand 12: Agree to all the demands within 10 days of them being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

It is unlikely that Doha will even be able to evaluate these demands, which often seek to deprive it of its sovereignty or involve instances that don't even concern the country - such as the demand to shut the MEE - within 10 days, let alone agree to any or some of them.

Demand 13: Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.

A demand that is tantamount to Qatar accepting its vassal status to the Saudis and UAE. There is no country on record that has ever acceded to such a demand, unless defeated in war.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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