Dubai: Qatar came under the tough scrutiny of US officials at a conference in Washington DC this week.
A conference on Tuesday entitled: “Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Global Affiliates: New US Administration Considers New Policies” by the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies with the Hudson Institute and The George Washington University’s Centre for Cyber & Homeland Security featured a discussion with Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense (2006-2011) and Ed Royce, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair.
“If Qatar is supporting Hamas, then we are talking about sanctions against Qatar,” Royce said at the conference.
“I think we are moving on legislation that addresses those states who don’t keep their commitment with respect to changing behaviour supporting organisations that are sowing terror. This becomes the acid test.”
On his part, Gates, using the context of science fiction, compared the Muslim Brotherhood to shapeshifters.
“They will look like whatever they think you want them to look like,” he said.
Senior US officials toned down their visits in the late 2000s due to its displeasure with Qatar over perceived support to American adversaries and Al Jazeera’s agenda against US troops, Gates pointed out.
“There was broader concern about Al Jazeera providing a platform for terrorists and for the most militant kinds of people. They would glorify the killing of American troops, and they were funding groups that we regarded as problematic. So there were lots of issues associated with Qatar,” he said.
The former senior official said that when he discussed the issues with Qatari leaders, “there was a good deal of nodding and explanations, but we did not see much change. We have had a peculiar relationship with Qatar.”
Qatar has been for years the home of scores of Islamist dissidents and militants who fled their country and opted to live in Doha where they were given numerous facilities and much freedom.
However, their presence has irked Qatar’s fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The countries have repeatedly conveyed their displeasure about hosting Muslim Brotherhood leaders and expressed their wishes that Doha put an end to its support.
In 2014, frustration reached unprecedented levels as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE pulled out their ambassadors to Qatar and kept them away for eight months until Doha toned down its support.
Tension with the US was mainly related to Qatar’s support for Hamas and while the situation was manageable, for various reasons, with the Obama Administration, the issue is no longer possible with Donald Trump as president amid growing concerns that Qatar is involved in terror financing, providing support material for terrorism and hosting radical clerics.
With the insistence of the Trump administration to call the Muslim Brotherhood “radical” and to take an aim at any group considered a terror threat, the friction in the relations between Doha and Washington will deepen and Qatar is most likely to come under unbearable pressure, he predicted.
The pressure will be compiled by a greater insistence of Gulf countries to push for a Muslim Brotherhood-free GCC.