The Qatar crisis is no longer limited to the demands and conditions set by the anti-terror quartet of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. It extends to a deeper and more influential dimension that involves the Qatari leadership’s credibility: How can we trust Qatar’s official commitments?
The zero trust in Qatar is unprecedented in Gulf relations. And Doha has brought it upon itself. The Riyadh Agreement is a classic example of Qatar’s habit of reneging on deals that it had signed. The 2013 accord had helped resolve the disputed with the Gulf states.
The agreement expressly called on Qatar to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, and urged the country to desist from providing refuge to any GCC citizen who opposes his/her country’s regimes. The deal also insisted that no support be given to extremist groups and individuals who pose a threat to neighbouring countries. Signed in November 2014 by Qatari Emir Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, it allowed the restoration of ties with the Gulf alliance countries. The Riyadh Agreement helped the reinstatement of the three GCC ambassadors who had been withdrawn from Doha, and paved the way for the GCC Summit in the Qatari capital.
The deal was struck in good faith, but Qatar soon began to rile the GCC states by returning to its wild ways — backing terrorist groups and individuals and cosying up to regional rival Iran. And it continued to use the Al Jazeera television channel to attack the leadership in Arab states.
Now this brings up the question, why did Qatar sign the accord if it intended to break it? Perhaps Qatar was merely buying time. Or something had occurred after Shaikh Tamim returned from Riyadh. It certainly is difficult to understand. Why would a country’s leader go back on a deal he had agreed upon? Doesn’t his signature have any value? It merely means Qatar cannot be trusted.
If that happened three years ago, look at what happened earlier this year. Shaikh Tamim was there in Riyadh when United States President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia. He was an integral part of the three summits. He signed on the agreements to fight terror. Barely had the ink on the signatures dried, Shaikh Tamim was quoted justifying why Qatar should cosy up to Iran. Surely the Qatari emir can’t be oblivious of Tehran’s backing of terror groups in the region. Shaikh Tamim must have heard Trump refer to Iran as the “exporter of terrorism”. The US president rapped Qatar too for supporting terror.
The anti-terror quartet’s decision to break off diplomatic relations didn’t come as a surprise. The demands for restoration of ties too is similar. Which can only mean that Qatar continues to work against the GCC states in violation of the 2014 accord and the recent deals in Riyadh. Kuwait’s mediation efforts have not borne fruit because Qatar is in denial. Doha stubbornly refuses to addresses the demands of GCC states. The anti-terror quartet has condensed the 13-point demands to six principles in the hope that Doha will see reason. Al Jazeera’s closure is no longer a demand as long as the television station adheres to objectivity and raises it professional standards. But the stalemate continues as Qatari officials continue to disregard GCC demands. Several European officials have visited the region after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson failed to resolve the impasse. The only positive outcome from Tillerson’s visit was the US-Qatar anti-terror deal. But that didn’t enthuse the quartet since Qatar has signed several deals in the past only to break them. Qatar’s credibility is a serious handicap.
The deadlock can be broken only if Doha makes efforts to restore its credibility. And that should come in the form of tangible steps to fight terrorism. Doha should take serious note of the quartet’s list of terrorists and act on it. It is in the interests of countries in the region, including Qatar.
Dr Salem Al Ketbi is an Emirati political analyst, researcher and opinion writer.