Qatar-sponsored media threaten Gulf reconciliation


Thu, 24-12-2020 08:23 PM, Aden

Doha (The Aarab Weekly)

A recent Qatari media campaign against neighbouring Gulf countries brought a reconciliation drive back to square one, triggering doubts and raising news suspicions about Doha’s intentions. 

The developments come after diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute that prompted Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to cut diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar in June 2017.

In early December, Kuwait announced significant progress towards resolving the dispute.

Moves towards resolving the row also multiplied following Riyadh’s announcement earlier this month that a final solution is within reach.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, in addition to Egypt, accuse Qatar of threatening regional stability and supporting extremism through Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha denies the accusations and says the boycott aims to undermine its sovereignty.

While Qatar was expected to encourage its media arms to tone down their rhetoric towards the four Arab countries, which all expressed positive views of the Saudi-led reconciliation drive, Al-Jazeera TV channel launched a familiar attack on the Arab quartet, particularly the UAE, spreading rumours about the Emiratis on several files, especially the Yemeni conflict.

Al-Jazeera is known to be a media tool of the Qatari regime, echoing Doha’s official policies and positions. This has led many observers to assume that the Qataris have not been honest about their desire to achieve reconciliation and put an end to the years-long row that pits them against their neighbours.   

"Al-Jazeera TV channel launched a familiar attack on the Arab quartet, particularly the UAE"

Some experts are wondering whether Doha, which should have an interest in defusing the crisis and ending the boycott by its neighbours, is in the process of succumbing to pressure from its close ally Turkey.

These experts argue the Turks have a direct political and strategic interest in isolating Qatar from its immediate surroundings in order to score financial and economic gains, many of which have already been achieved through generous Qatari financial support to Ankara during the height of its severe economic crisis.

These gains were also achieved through various cooperation projects that allowed Turkey to access significant financial wealth, ensured by Qatar’s substantial exports of natural gas.

On Tuesday, Abu Dhabi accused Qatari media platforms of working to undermine solutions to the dispute that has been going on for about three and a half years, about two weeks before an upcoming Gulf summit in Riyadh.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash did not name the media platforms, but his statements came one day after Al-Jazeera network broadcast what it called an investigative report that “reveals” the hacking of journalists’ phones by regional parties.

The report followed another in which the channel accused the UAE of undermining stability in Yemen by pursuing its own policies there.

“The political and social forces in the Arab Gulf are looking forward to ending the Qatari crisis and searching for the best means to guarantee Doha’s commitment to any agreement that could prove positive for the whole region,” Gargash tweeted.

“But the Qatari media platforms appear determined to undermine any agreement. A strange phenomenon that is hard to explain,” he added.
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait confirmed earlier this month that progress had been made towards resolving the diplomatic crisis in the Arab Gulf region, due to efforts by Kuwait’s leaders and the administration of outgoing US President Donald Trump.

Sources familiar with the reconciliation drive say that the boycotting countries, led by Riyadh, have shown a willingness to ease their demands on Qatar in order to make progress. 

A source close to the Saudi government told AFP that the kingdom is ready to make concessions by opening its airspace to Qatari planes if Doha stops funding Riyadh’s political opponents and ends the regime-sponsored media campaigns against Arab countries.

The annual Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit will be held in Saudi Arabia on January 5. The attendance of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who has not gathered with leaders of the boycotting countries since 2017, would be an indication that a breakthrough is within reach.

Observers, however, say that Al-Jazeera’s coverage is a negative sign before the start of the summit.

Although recent attempts to end the Qatari crisis have been serious, confirmed by optimistic and flexible political statements, the lack of realistic details has continued to raise concerns that obstacles still remain and that some disagreements are intractable, which could make a comprehensive solution elusive.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud previously said that his country’s allies are on the same page with Riyadh when it comes to resolving the dispute and that a final agreement is expected soon.

The UAE and Egypt later expressed their support for the efforts to resolve the dispute with Qatar. However, sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain were more reserved about the mediation efforts.

Other sources in the Gulf who are close to the negotiations said that the process being led by the kingdom may yield some level of calm, but will not solve all basic issues.

Diplomats in Doha quoted a senior Qatari official as saying the final agreement “was agreed in principle but is limited in scope.”

“It will take a lot of time and sustained effort by all parties to rebuild ties,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute in the United States.
“Any agreement will be the start of a longer process of reconciliation rather than an endpoint or a return to a pre-2017 status quo ante.”

Regarding the upcoming Gulf summit, Gulf sources say it will be a direct test by the Saudis of Qatar’s seriousness about seeking reconciliation without ambiguity or duplicity.