Qatar and GCC divorce a reality if Doha doesn’t take demands seriously, says Gargash

Qatar has been presented with a list of 13 demands by the bloc of Arab countries that have severed ties with Doha, including the closure of the new Turkish military base in the emirate and shutting down the Al Jazeera news network.

 Dr Anwar Gargash said Qatar leaking the demands will further exasperate & prolong the crisis. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // Qatar has been presented with a list of 13 demands by the bloc of Arab countries that have severed ties with Doha. They include the closure of the new Turkish military base in the emirate and shutting down the Al Jazeera news network.

The list was reportedly presented to Qatari officials on Thursday by Kuwait, which has remained neutral in the crisis and whose emir is leading mediation efforts within the GCC.

The list has not been officially confirmed, but the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, accused Qatar of seeking to undermine mediation efforts by leaking the demands.

“The leak aims to thwart mediation in an adolescent manner we have become accustomed to,” Mr Gargash said in one of a series of tweets after details of the list were reported by media. “It would have been wiser to take the demands and concerns of his neighbours seriously, otherwise, divorce would be a reality.”

The reference to a potential ejection of Qatar from the GCC signalled that the bloc’s gravest internal crisis since its creation in 1981 is likely to escalate before it can be resolved.

“The leakage will further exasperate & prolong the Qatar crisis,” Mr Gargash said on Twitter.

Qatar leaking demands/ concerns of its neighbours & Egypt either attempt to undermine serious mediation or yet another sign of callous policy
The leakage will further exasperate & prolong the Qatar crisis. Undermining serious diplomacy will lead to parting of ways.
Qatar, yet again, undermining opportunity to address concerns about its support for extremism & terrorism & undermining regional stability.

Qatar’s foreign minister has already stated that his country will not negotiate on any demands until the economic blockade by its neighbours is lifted, and that Doha will not take any steps that cede sovereignty over its foreign policy.

Observers and diplomats in the region have said the surprisingly broad list revealed on Friday was meant to be kept secret and form a basis for talks over what concrete steps Qatar would take to meet the key non-negotiable demands of its neighbours.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic, travel and commercial links with Qatar over accusations that it promotes extremism — which Doha denies — and undermines their collective and security stability through its unilateral policies. According to the leaked list, those four countries have given Doha 10 days to comply fully with the 13 “joint requirements”.

The submission of their demands comes after days of increasingly public frustration on the part of the US state department, where the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has been tasked with leading Washington’s efforts to mediate a resolution to the crisis. The US is the most important ally of all four states involved, and has its largest Middle East base and 10,000 troops in Qatar. Asked about the list on Thursday, a state department spokeswoman said “We believe it’s coming along, and that we have asked, and we’re optimistic, that what will be on this list will be reasonable and actionable demands”.

The list includes a demand that Qatar “stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt” and the United States. This includes the Muslim Brotherhood and related Islamist political parties that Qatar supports and to which it tied its foreign policy after the Arab Spring, in a bid to spread its influence across the region.

Doha must also “align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically … in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014”, a reference to a charter — never made public — that ended a similar but less severe crisis over Qatari policy.

The countries also demand that Doha end its contact with the internal political opposition in GCC countries, “hand over all files” on its ties to these groups, and extradite opposition figures based in Doha.

Al Jazeera Arabic and its affiliated stations as well as the constellation of media outlets backed by Qatar have been a key source of anger for the four countries, which claim they provide a platform for extremists such as Brotherhood leader Yusuf Qaradawi, and an outlet for broadcasting criticism of the leadership and policies of those nations.

Included in the list of media that they demand be shut down along with Al Jazeera are Middle East Eye, Al Araby Al Jadeed, Arabi21 and Rassd.

Qatar and Turkey, it closest ally, signed an agreement in 2014 to set up a permanent Turkish military base in the country. The Turkish military presence angered officials in UAE and Saudi Arabia, although it was tolerated as Ankara sought to fix its relations with the GCC and align to contain the shared threat of Iran.

But their fears about the base were confirmed when Ankara accelerated plans to send troops there just days after the crisis broke out.

“The brother must realise that the solution to the crisis is not in Tehran, Beirut, Ankara, Western capitals or media outlets, but through replenishing the trust of the region and that of his neighbours,” Mr Gargash said on Twitter.

While Qatar says it opposes Iran’s regional ambitions and has fought it through allied militias in Syria, fellow Arab countries say it has been duplicitous and too close to Tehran. The demands call on Qatar to close its diplomatic missions in the Islamic Republic, “expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard from Qatar and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran”. The two countries reportedly signed an agreement on closer security cooperation in 2010.

Qatar shares the world’s largest gasfield with Iran, but the demands do not require Doha to cut commercial ties.

The list asserts that if Doha accedes, it will be required to be audited monthly for a year, and then on a quarterly basis for another year, and then annually.

A Kuwait-based political analyst told The National that the demands made of Qatar were more stringent than he had expected.

“This is significantly more than asking for an apology. The demands are severe to the point where Qatar is put between the decision of seeming weak by sacrificing it’s sovereignty, or escalating the situation,” he said. “Now, it really depends how they react and whether they make a counter demand.”

* With additional reporting by Carla Mirza

foreign.desk@thenational.ae