In this file picture, Qatari Emir Shaikh Tamim greets radical cleric Yousuf Al Qaradawi. Qatar has been hosting Al Qaradawi for several years. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Damascus: Qatar is willing to sever ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, according to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). In an exclusive report published in late November, the newspaper said that the Qatari foreign minister Mohammad Bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani made an unannounced visit to Riyadh recently, hoping to end a two-year dispute with the Quartet. In exchange for lifting the blockade that was imposed in 2017, he offered to sever ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, an outlawed group considered a terrorist organisation by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt.

The newspaper did not elaborate on the Qatari offer. Will the Brotherhood still be permitted to reside in Doha, but not have open access to the Royal Palace? It also made no mention of the group’s funding, Doha-based assets, and top officials, including the Brotherhood’s ideologue, the Egyptian Shaikh Yousuf Al Qaradawi.

Al Jazeera confirms the story

Interestingly, no official statement came out of the Emir’s Diwan in Doha, but Al Jazeera TV ran the WSJ story, going a step further by quoting a senior Qatari official, without naming him. He was quoted as saying: “There has been a significant misunderstanding about Qatar’s relationship with specific political parties in the region,” in a clear reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“This misunderstanding was mostly driven by orchestrated and paid campaigns targeting Qatar’s image. Our support has been sometimes misconstrued by those seeking to isolate Qatar, but the facts bear out our position.”

“The Muslim Brotherhood for Qatar is what nuclear weapons are to North Korea” said prominent Kuwaiti journalist Fouad Hashem. The group has relied on generous Qatari funding for years, sponsoring its activities in Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. Speaking to Gulf News, Hashem added: “Likewise, a Qatar without the Brotherhood is a demilitarised Qatar. The Brotherhood were the source of its regional political influence.” Expelling them or curbing their influence in Qatar would be easier said than done, he added.

Giving diplomacy a chance

The Qatari Foreign Minister is the most senior official to visit Saudi Arabia since Prime Minister Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani attended a summit in Mecca last May. Last month, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain revoked a decision to boycott the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup Football, giving diplomacy and engagement a chance.

Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al Jarallah said that the decision to participate in the football tournament was “clear indication” towards “progress.” And this week, Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz invited Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani to a GCC summit in Riyadh, scheduled for December 10, 2019.

It remains to be seen whether severing ties with the Brotherhood is enough to restore ties with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt. The Quartet had originally outlined 13 points that they wanted Qatar to abide by, which included closing of Al Jazeera, which constantly hosts Brotherhood members at its studios, shutting down a Turkish military base, and severing ties with Iran. As recently as mid-November, Saudi Arabia had said that it was still waiting for answers to these demands.