On 22 June 2017, in an act that is more reminiscent of a State making demands of an opposing warring party, and will draw comparisons to those demands made of Serbia by the Austro-Hungarian empire after the assignation of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the Arab Republic of Egypt, submitted a list of thirteen demands to the State of Qatar, agreement to which would bring about the end of the recent ‘blockade’ and an ‘unfreezing’ of their relations with the State – failure to comply would result in further ‘sanctions’ being imposed.
On 3 July 2017, in a move initiated by the State of Kuwait, an extension of 48 hours was given in order to allow a summit to take place in Cairo in attempt to resolve the crisis. It failed. This is hardly surprising when one considers that the two positions are so far apart that it is difficult to see how there can be any middle ground. One is an attempt to create a vassal state and the other is to assert sovereignty. The deadline has now passed and the State of Qatar has responded in strong and appropriate terms; this is an attack on sovereignty and an attack on the free media that will not be tolerated. In the words of Oscar Wilde “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”.
Let us be clear. Leaving aside, for a moment, the issue of Qatar’s recent isolation, and its justification, or otherwise, the demands placed upon Qatar are absurd and quite shocking. It is quite clear that no democratic state could readily capitulate given the consequences for sovereignty, from both a domestic, and foreign perspective.
The demands have been made on the basis of broad sweeping allegations that Qatar is supporting terrorism and provides a safe haven for individuals and groups involved with militancy and is a secret ally of Iran. Ironically, a recent report by the Henry Jackson Society, a London based think tank, has put Saudi Arabia as the chief foreign supporter of Islamist extremism in the United Kingdom and let us not forget that Qatar has been one of the strongest supporters of the Syrian revolution in which Iran is a rival faction. Qatar has also been allied, politically and militarily, with Saudi Arabia in the ongoing conflict in the Yemen.
In considering the validity of the demands being made, it is equally important to consider the intent behind such draconian measures. Is this really about supporting terrorism? Is it about more about relations with Iran? Or is it something far more sinister? One interpretation is that these actions are more about shutting down Al Jazeera, which has been critical of the ruling regimes in all four states, and preventing Qatar from supporting the political opposition in those countries.
The first demand calls for an end to diplomatic ties with Iran and only trade and commerce that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted. The paradox is made out above and shows the Syrian conflict is the key defining point of absurdity.
The second and sixth demands calls for Qatar to sever ties with “terrorist organisations” and refrain from funding groups designated by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt. It is clear that there is a logical obligation to dismantle terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida, to address terrorist financing and to counter extremist ideologies. However, this directive on Qatar also includes groups that Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt have decreed as terrorist groups. This effectively means that any person or group designated as a terrorist by the monarchical regimes would be subject to the severance directive, regardless of whether such a designation is considered legitimate by the wider international community.
The third and fourth demands, respectively, call for the shutting down of the critical, independent media. To quote Henry Louis-Gates Jr. in response to this “censorship is to art what lynching is to justice”.
The fifth demand requires that the Turkish military presence in Qatar is brought to an end. Interestingly, there is no such demand being placed upon the removal of the U.S. military presence in Qatar.
The seventh and eighth demands require that Qatar disregard national and international law by ceasing to grant protective status or citizenship to persons wanted by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. This would be in direct contravention of a number of international treaties that prohibits the rendering of persons stateless and the non-refoulement principle barring the return of a person where he is at risk of torture or death. Furthermore, considering that the U.K. courts have refused to extradite persons wanted by the UAE due to concerns of torture in custody and Interpol has consistently withdrawn warrants issued by Egyptian authorities as politically motivated, it is clear that there is broad based consensus that the criminal justice systems in most, if not all of the offending States, fail to comply with recognised international standards and have been repeatedly criticised in a number of legal fora, including the UN Human Rights Council.
The ninth demand requires that all contact with any political opposition group in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain is brought to an end and further, all files relating to past contact is handed over. As with the section above, this raises an important issue under international human rights law. For Qatar to hand over the files related to opposition political figures would expose them, and their families, to a real risk of persecution.
The tenth demand requires the payment of compensation for loss of life and other financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies. This is a broad sweeping, arbitrary demand. The regimes in Egypt and Bahrain, in particular, have presided over a human rights catastrophe in their own states resulting in hundreds, if not thousands, being arbitrarily arrested, tortured in custody and scores of individuals being extra-judicially executed. In 2016, Saudi Arabia, just below China and Iran, had the third highest number of executions.
The eleventh demand requires that Qatar is regularly monitored and the twelfth demand requires that Qatar align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially, and economically. This is, in effect, transforming Qatar from an independent, sovereign nation to a vassal state.
The final demand requires that Qatar agrees to the demands within 10 days.
To accede to any such demands would result in such a loss of sovereignty that independence would be all but eroded.
Since the visit of U.S. President Donald J. Trump, Saudi Arabia and other Arab and Gulf States have given the impression that they are taking a harder line towards terrorism, and consequently, they have all identified Qatar as the prime supporter and financier of such terrorism. It is essential to highlight however, that up to now, absolutely no evidence has been produced to justify the claim, it is merely a number of states attempting to entrench an increasingly weak position.
Qatar has previously distanced itself from the policies of those States now seeking to impose such stringent and entirely inappropriate measures. Following the military coup in Egypt that brought about the unlawful removal of President Morsi, Qatar refused to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood and thus risked the ire of many gulf states. It can hardly be coincidence that those seeking to isolate Qatar now, are those countries that previously took a hard line towards the Muslim Brotherhood and are concerned of its growing presence within their own borders.
There is perhaps credence to the argument therefore, that the demands of President Trump, and his recent visit to Saudi Arabia has merely given those States an opportunity to further push their own agenda at the expense of Qatari sovereignty.
This agenda, interestingly, does not simply relate to the stated aim of reducing support for terrorism; it is clear from its demands, that it is being seen as opportunity to further the authoritarian and anti-democratic policies of those other states. Why else would there be demands that Qatar stop all contact with parties forming the political opposition. Why else would there be demands that ‘files’ be handed over, and to further exemplify the sinister intent, why else would there be a demand that legitimate journalists be silenced, by the closure of numerous media outlets.
Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression, are two rights that the authoritarian and autocratic ruler fears more than any other. U.S. President Harry Truman once said that “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
The independent voice with an opinion that challenges the ruling class, or the status quo, is indeed a dangerous voice for those countries that rule by fear and oppression, as is through this difference of opinion that real change is wrought.
Change, or a movement for change, is one thing that cannot be tolerated in an authoritarian State, take Bahrain and Egypt for example; where a voice for change is heard, that voice is silenced through detention, through disappearance, through torture, and through death.
The demands made therefore may well be portrayed as a means by which the global ‘War on Terror’ can be furthered and strengthened. However, the reality, is that the rhetoric is merely taking advantage of a convenient situation to further ‘other’ interests. Interests that consolidate power, and ensure that no-one, even sovereign nations, are allowed to offer a dissenting opinion.
It has been said that to maintain the moral high ground one must come to the table with clean hands and the accusers in this scenario do not have clean hands. There is a simply solution to what is effectively a stance of aggression. To protect its own sovereignty and its own citizens and to reclaim the moral high ground, the State of Qatar could take one simply, but effective, step. Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and any act of aggression from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt could end up in The Hague.
 See http://henryjacksonsociety.org/2017/07/05/foreign-funded-islamist-extremism-in-the-uk/ and http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/saudi-arabia-uk-extremism-terrorism-funding-clear-link-middle-east-isis-gulf-qatar-report-henry-a7824241.html.
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