Qatari newspapers made their feelings known on growing pressure from fellow Gulf states regarding their foreign policy with Al Raya stating: “We don’t follow anyone … this is Qatar.” Image Credit: Courtesy: Al Raya

Doha: The government of Qatar said it will not bow to demands from three Gulf states to alter its foreign policy, sources close to its government said, suggesting Doha is unlikely to abandon support for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Syrian Islamists.

In an unprecedented move, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar on Wednesday, saying Doha had failed to abide by an accord not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs.

Hours later Qatar’s cabinet voiced “regret and surprise” at the decision by the fellow-members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but said Doha would not pull out its own envoys and that it remained committed to GCC security.

On Thursday, a source close to the Qatari government suggested Qatar would not comply. “Qatar will not let go of its foreign policy, no matter what the pressures are. This is a matter of principles which we will stick to, no matter the price,” the source said.

The source also suggested Qatar would not stop its practice of playing host to members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Yousuf Al Qaradawi, an influential Sunni cleric and a vocal critic of authorities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“Since the day Qatar was founded we decided to take this approach of always welcoming anyone who seeks refuge in our country, and no amount of pressure will make us kick these people out,” said the source close to the government.

A source at the foreign ministry said: “It’s the right of every sovereign state to have its own foreign policy.” The source also suggested that Qatar had no differences with fellow Gulf Arab states on Gulf matters.

The dispute “is more about differences in foreign policy approaches”, the source added, referring to issues in the Middle East such as the crises in Egypt and Syria.
While the Qatari government’s official reaction was short and simple, the country’s newspapers, however, compensated the next day by publishing bold headlines lashing out at the Gulf trio.

Major coverage

Every major paper splashed their front pages with the story, largely echoing the government line that the decision was not based on intra-GCC disputes but an external issue: Egypt.

Qatar is the only Gulf state that has wholeheartedly supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and is believed to have extended that support beyond that country. The Gulf trio has welcomed the new military backed regime in Cairo that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Mursi in July.

Qatar’s Al Raya ran a front-page editorial with the headline: “We don’t follow anyone ... This is Qatar”, over a picture of the emir, Shaikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The piece argued that Qatar would not be dictated by any state, alleging that “those who have lost their bets in Egypt” are trying to create conflict with Qatar. The paper continued that the ambassadors’ recall was a “hasty step based on flimsy grounds and vague allegations”.

Al Watan daily ran a full page opinion piece by its editor in chief Mohammad Hamad Al Marri, with the headline: “O Gentlemen, Qatar is a sovereign nation”. The subheading read: “States are not governorates ... that do not have the right to choose their own foreign policy,” hinting at the perceived attempt at hegemony by its neighbours.
“Cheap media has been spreading ‘stories’ created by those who are spiteful and published by those who have been paid,” the article said, adding that the Gulf’s security is Qatar’s “red line”.

“This decision is a historical service for those in our countries who incite against us and seek to cause us harm, and it threatens the stability of every Gulf nation — without exceptions.”

Al Sharq had a significantly more toned-down opinion piece on its front page by the editor in chief Jaber Al Harmi expressing his “surprise” at the decision, arguing that the GCC’s security was a priority for Qatar, and that it would do all it can to protect it. He said Qatar was “open for dialogue on all issues, and had nothing to hide”.
Unlike many other newspapers that ran editorials or opinion pieces on their front page, Al Arab ran with news, reporting the government’s position that the decision to recall ambassadors was based on issues external to the Gulf, in reference to Egypt. In a full page opinion piece inside, the editor in chief Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Rumaihi said Qatar’s policies were driven by principles, not interests.

— With inputs from Reuters