Tag Archive | "Qatar"

Qatar: ‘Neighbors’ leading economic siege hacked our news agency


NOVANEWS
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Qatar says it has evidence showing the same “neighboring” countries that are leading a boycott campaign against Doha had a hand in the alleged hacking of its state news agency, an incident that triggered an unprecedented diplomatic crisis in the Persian Gulf region.

Attorney General Ali bin Fetais al-Marri Ali bin Fetais al-Marri told a press conference in Doha on Tuesday that the hacking incident originated in “neighboring countries,” without naming them.

“We have evidence to show that iPhones originating from the countries laying siege to us have been used in this hacking. We have enough evidence to point the finger of blame at these countries,” Marri said.

Last month, the Qatar News Agency (QNA) released comments attributed to Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, describing Iran as an “Islamic power,” praising the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas and criticizing US President Donald Trump.

Qatar said hackers had broken into the QNA website and published the fake news, but the denial did not convince the Riyadh regime and its Persian Gulf Arab allies.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the Qatari attorney general said it was “very soon” to give specific phone numbers for those he said were responsible for the hacking.

He also noted that Qatari investigators had traced the internet service providers used to the Saudi-led allied countries.

“We have sent the information to the countries concerned and we are awaiting their response,” Marri pointed out, adding, “As far as we are concerned, the case is very clear.”

Following the hacking report, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties and cut off transport links with Qatar in early June, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism, an allegation rejected by the Qatari government.

They put 12 organizations and 59 people associated with Qatar on a terror sanctions list.

Marri said the blacklist was “baseless” and stressed that Qatar would legally pursue those who had done harm to it.

Qatar has long been at odds with other Arab countries about the Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE and Egypt regard as a terrorist group.

Back in March, 2014, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain temporarily recalled their ambassadors from Doha after alleging that it has been interfering in their domestic affairs. The diplomatic relations resumed eight months later when Qatar ordered some Muslim Brotherhood members to leave the country.

The recent dispute, however, is said to be the worst to hit the Persian Gulf since the formation of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981.

Observers say the fresh rift surfaced in the wake of Qatar’s break with past policies and its leaning toward Russia and Iran.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said lately that Doha would not “surrender,” vowing to keep “the independence of our foreign policy.”

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Liars Lying About Nearly Everything


NOVANEWS
Terrorism supporters in Washington and Riyadh close ranks against Qatar

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By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review 

The United States has been using lies to go to war since 1846, when Americans who believed in manifest destiny sought to expand to the Pacific Ocean at the expense of Mexico, acquiring by force of arms California and what were to become the southwestern states. In 1898 the U.S. picked up the pieces of a dying Spanish Empire in a war that was driven by American imperialists and the yellow dog reporting of the Hearst Newspaper chain. And then came World War 1, World War 2, and Korea, all avoidable and all enabled by deliberate lying coming out of Washington.

More recently, we have seen Vietnam with its Gulf of Tonkin fabrication, Granada and Panama with palpably ridiculous pretexts for war, Iraq with its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, Afghanistan with its lies about bin Laden, Libya and its false claims about Gaddafi, and most recently Syria and Iran with allegations of an Iranian threat to the United States and lies about Syrian use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons. And if one adds in the warnings to Russia over Ukraine, a conflict generated by Washington when it brought about regime change in Kiev, you have a tissue of lies that span the globe and bring with them never-ending conflict to advance the American imperium.

So lies go with the American Way of War, but the latest twist and turns in the Middle East are bizarre even by Washington’s admittedly low standards of rectitude. On the 5th of June, Saudi Arabia led a gaggle of Arab and Muslim nations that included the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain to cut off all diplomatic, commercial and transport links with Qatar, effectively blockading it. Qatar is currently isolated from its neighbors, subject to sanctions, and there have even been Saudi threats of going to war against its tiny neighbor. Salman al-Ansari, the president of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee, even tweeted: “To the emir of Qatar, regarding your alignment with the extremist government of Iran and your abuse of the Custodian of the two sacred mosques, I would like to remind you that Mohammed Morsi [of Egypt] did exactly the same and was then toppled and imprisoned.”

It is the second time the Saudis have moved against Qatar. Two years ago, there was a break in diplomatic relations, but they were eventually restored. This time, the principal allegation being directed against Qatar by Riyadh is that it supports terrorism. The terrorist groups that it allegedly embraces are Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s affiliation. Hezbollah and Hamas are close to Iran which is perhaps the real reason for their being singled out as many would call them resistance movements or even legitimate political parties rather than terrorists. And the Iran connection is critical as Qatar has been under fire for allegedly saying nice things about trying to respect and get along with Tehran, undoubtedly somewhat motivated by its joint exploitation with Iran of a vast gas field in the Persian Gulf.

Qatar’s ownership of al-Jazeera also has been a sore point with the Saudis and other Gulf states as its reporting has often been critical of developments in the region, criticisms that have often rankled the Saudi monarchy and the Egyptians. It has been accused of spreading propaganda for “militant groups.” One of the Saudi demands to permit Qatar to again become a “normal” Arab Gulf state would be to close down the network.

The terrorism claims by the Saudis are, of course, hypocritical. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are well known as sponsors of Salafist terrorism, including the funding and arming of groups like ISIS and the various al-Qaeda franchises, to include al-Nusra. Much of the money admittedly comes from private individuals and is often channeled through Islamic charities, but both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been extremely lax in their enforcement of anti-terror and money laundering regulations. In a 2009 State Department memo signed off on by Hillary Clinton it was stated that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Qatar, meanwhile, has been described as a “permissive environment for terrorist financing.”

The Saudis also have considerable blood on their hands by way of their genocidal assault on neighboring Yemen. In addition, the Saudi Royal House has served as the principal propagator of Wahhabism, the virulently fundamentalist version of Islam that provides a form of religious legitimacy to terror while also motivating many young Muslims to join radical groups.

The falling out of two Gulf Arab regimes might be a matter of relatively little importance but for the unnecessary intervention of President Donald Trump in the quarrel. He has taken credit for the burgeoning conflict, implying that his recent visit to the region set the stage for the ostracizing of Qatar. His twitter on the affair, posted on June 6th, read “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!” And he again came down on Qatar on June 9th during a press conference.

Trump’s tweets might well be regarded as simply maladroit, driven by ignorance, but they could also provide a glimpse of a broader agenda. While in the Middle East, Trump was bombarded with anti-Iranian propaganda coming from both Israel and the Saudis. An escalation of hostilities with the intention of starting an actual war involving the United States to take down Iran is not unimaginable, particularly as the Israelis, who have already endorsed the Saudi moves, have been arguing that option and lying about the threat posed by Tehran for a number of years.

A war against Iran would be very popular both with the U.S. congress and the mainstream media, so it would be easy to sell to the American public. The terrorist attack in Tehran on June 6th that killed 17 is being blamed in some Iranian circles on the Saudis, a not unreasonable assumption. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack but it must also be observed that both the Saudis and Israelis have good connections with the terrorist group. But if the possibility of a possible Saudi hand is true or even plausibly so, it guarantees a rise in tension and an incident at sea could easily be contrived by either side to escalate into a shooting war. The United States would almost inevitably be drawn in, particularly in light of Trump’s ridiculous comment on the tragedy, tweeting that Iran is“falling victim to the evil they promote.”

There is also other considerable collateral damage to be reckoned with as a consequence of the Trump intervention even if war can be avoided. Qatar hosts the al-Udeid airbase, the largest in the Middle East, which is home to 10,000 U.S. servicemen and serves as the Combined Air and Space Operations Center for Washington and its allies in the region and beyond. Now the United States finds itself squarely in the middle of a fight between two alleged friends that it doesn’t have to involve itself in, an intervention that will produce nothing but bad results. Backing Saudi Arabia in this quarrel serves no conceivable American interest, particularly if the ultimate objective is to strike at a non-threatening Iran. So the fallback position is to lie about what the support for the aggressive Saudi posturing really means – it is alleged to be about terrorism, which is always a popular excuse for government overreach.

And the ultimate irony is that when it comes to terrorism the United States itself does not emerge without fault. As early as 2011, the U.S. was arming Syrian dissidents from the arsenals in Libya, flying in weapons to Turkey to hand over to the rebels. Many of the weapons, as well as those provided to Iraqi forces, have wound up in the hands of ISIS and al-Nusrah. U.S. advisers training rebels have conceded that it is impossible to determine the politics of many of those receiving instruction and weapons, an observation that has also been made by the Obama White House and by his State Department.

So watch the lies if you want to know when the next war is coming. If the House of Saud, the Israelis and Donald Trump are talking trash and seem to agree about something then it is time to head for the bomb shelter. Will it be Iran or an escalating catastrophe in Syria? Anything is possible.

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Is Qatar paying the price for its pro-Palestine stance?


NOVANEWS
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The New Arab 

Qatar’s support for Palestinians seems to be one of the key causes of the Saudi-led blockade on Doha, amid increasing convergence between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, and the administration of US President Donald Trump – the president most supportive of Israel in recent decades.

On Tuesday, Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, made it clear that a key demand of his government in return for restoring ties with Doha was for Qatar to end its “support” for Palestinian group Hamas, which champions armed resistance against Israel and was the winner of the last general election held in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Jubeir, for the first time in Saudi history, suggested Hamas was an “extremist” group. During Trump’s visit to Riyadh in late May, the US president proclaimed the group a terrorist outfit akin to the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda, and Riyadh did not object.

Saudi Arabia previously provided support to Hamas and welcomed its leaders as recently as 2015. However, on the back of the Iranian nuclear deal, both the kingdom and its ally, the UAE, have been making increasing offers of normalisation with Israel – with whom they share Iran as a common foe.

Since the events of the Arab Spring, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also become hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Hamas is affiliated, seeing it as an imminent threat to their regimes.

Qatar, by contrast, has maintained good relations with most Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah, and invested tens of millions of dollars in the reconstruction of besieged Gaza, decimated by years of Israeli war.

Qatar, although closely allied to the United States, has maintained an independent policy on Palestine, which has often caused it problems with pro-Israel officials in the West.

Now, Qatar’s neighbours seem to have joined the fray, inching closer to fully endorsing Israel’s narrative on groups such as Hamas, in the name of fighting extremism and terrorism, without defining either.

It is worth noting that the UAE hosts and supports Hamas’ arch-rival, exiled Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, whom it hopes to install as the next Palestinian president.

“Qatar is being punished for its role and influence in the Palestinian arena, with both President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas,” Ibrahim al-Madhoun, political analyst, told The New Arab.

“Qatar’s role is one of the causes of the Gulf crisis, as its balanced position and influence has become a source of annoyance for its rivals,” he added.

Taysir Muhaisen, political commentator, agrees. “All the parties, in light of the emergence of a new US administration, have decided to pressure Qatar, which has had a different approach to many issues including the Palestinian issue, dealing with Hamas and all Palestinian factions… and helping Gaza weather the blockade,” he said.

Disaster for Gaza

Qatar is one of the few foreign backers of Hamas, and faces massive pressure from its Gulf neighbours to cut ties with the Islamic militant group. If it does, the result could be disastrous for Hamas-ruled Gaza, according to an AP analysis.

Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in roads, housing and a major hospital in the tiny territory. Its infrastructure projects are one of the few job-creators in a devastated economy.

Gaza already suffers from an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, widespread destruction from a string of Israel-Hamas wars, economic misery and chronic electricity shortages. For Hamas, Qatar’s money pumping into the economy is a vital lifeline bolstering its rule.

The mere prospect of losing Qatari support prompted Hamas on Wednesday to issue rare criticism of Saudi Arabia, which has been leading the campaign against its tiny Gulf neighbour.

Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said the Saudi call for Qatar to cut ties with the Palestinian group was “regrettable”, and contradicts traditional Arab support for the Palestinian cause. He accused Saudi Arabia of siding with “American and Zionist calls to put Hamas on the terrorism list”.

Qatar has denied the allegations made against it by Riyadh. But its small size and reliance on food imports from Saudi Arabia could make it susceptible to pressure.

This could spell trouble for Hamas. The group – which calls for Israel’s destruction, even if it has offered long-term interim cease-fires – is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and its Western allies. Israel and Hamas have fought three cross-border wars that caused large-scale damage in Gaza.

Qatar doesn’t support Hamas directly, but its large-scale projects have significantly eased the burden on Hamas authorities and given it some credit for bringing this money to Gaza.

In 2012, Qatar’s then-emir, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, visited Gaza, the first and only head of state to do so since Hamas routed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah militants in Gaza during internecine fighting a year after Hamas won elections in 2006. The emir announced a grant of $407 million for humanitarian projects.

The grant is being used to build a housing complex of 3,000 units. Two phases of the project have been completed and families moved into their new homes, dubbed the Hamad Residential City, in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis.

Last month, Palestinian contractors and Qatari envoys signed deals to start the third and final phase of Hamad City. Now, those deals could be in question.

Using that grant, Qatar also built a specialist prosthetic centre, the first of its kind in Gaza. Qatar paved roads, repaired or rebuilt mosques and oversaw dozens of other infrastructure projects.

Following a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in 2014, Qatar was the largest single donor to the reconstruction of Gaza, pledging $1 billion at a Cairo-hosted international conference.

Qatar also helped pay for fuel and electricity deliveries from neighbouring Israel, which, despite its enmity to Hamas, supplies energy to Gaza for what it says are humanitarian reasons.

On Wednesday, bulldozers with Qatari flags were seen leveling land overlooking Gaza City’s coastal road. The spot is supposed to house the headquarters of Qatar’s Gaza reconstruction mission and a residence for an envoy.

In Hamad City, new shops and stores are opening, including a pharmacy named Qatar, barber shops and a video gaming cafe as more families move in. The complex is the largest in Gaza.

Wael al-Naqla, a contractor, has won a bid to build several buildings in the final phase. Thanks to Qatari money, he is one of the few business owners who can hire workers in today’s Gaza.

“Without these projects, we would have been idled a long time ago,” he said, voicing fears that the funding could soon dry up. “We are afraid I won’t be able to keep paying for my 20 workers and they will not be able to eat.”

The construction here is one of the few bright spots in Gaza.

The situation here is grim. The territory suffers from rolling power cuts, with just four hours of electricity at a time, followed by 14-18 hours of blackout. Tap water is undrinkable, youth unemployment is estimated at 60 percent. Thousands wait for a rare chance to exit the blockaded territory.

Mkhaimar Abusada, an independent Gaza political analyst, said the pressure on Qatar could increase Hamas’ political and financial isolation.

This week, a high-level Hamas delegation was summoned to neighbouring Egypt, which has had cooling relations with Hamas. “If these talks don’t lead to new understandings getting Hamas out of its difficult political situation, I think there will be more crises,” said Abusada.

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Five Things You Need to Know About What’s Going on with Qatar


NOVANEWS

A new Cold War in the desert.

 

It’s not every day that two states with similar societies and international alignments break into an open cold war, but this is what is happen between Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Black Gold Meets Cold War In The Desert  

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are neighbours and the similarities do not end there. Both are heavily reliant on energy exports in order to fund their lavish domestic economies.  Both practice similar forms of Salafist Islam and both countries have been the traditional enemies of secular Arab states, notably Syria. Both countries are sponsors of terrorism including of al-Qaeda and ISIS at various times.

Hillary Clinton email reveals she knew of Saudi & Qatar government funding for ISIL (ISIS) by August 2014 https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/55380#efmA_RBEL 

Although the states are arguing over their differences, it is their similarities that are the real root of the crisis.

With experts predicting that oil prices will never recover as non-OPEC members continue to produce more energy and as China becomes a pioneer in green energy production, Saudi Arabia is feeling the economic sting and is trying to isolate a regional energy exporter.

Oil prices rose after Saudi and others made the announcement that they were breaking off relations with Qatar. However, the bigger question is: will the prices go back down? Most experts say yes, something which will embolden the deeply un-creative Saudi regime to take even more aggressive measures, even against neighbours with similar ideologies.

Although Saudi Arabia and Qatar had a somewhat similar spat in 2014, the current issue is far bigger.

Saudi has managed to convince many more countries to join in the boycott and has also moved to shut down state-owned Qatari media, notably Al Jazeera. Saudi has also shut the border to Qatar as well water access to its neighbour. Flights from the state airlines of Saudi Arabia and its ally the UAE to Qatar have all stopped. Furthermore, Saudi is now demanding that Qatar change the name of its Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque, named for the spiritual father of the Saudi ideology.

It really is as if the Saudis and the UAE are building a kind of invisible but deeply unambiguous Berlin Wall around Qatar.

2. Qatar Diversifies Its ‘Geo-political Portfolio’ 

Qatar has long been attempting to subtly and at times overtly shift its international alliances in order to differentiate itself from Saudi and carve out a unique niche as a ‘separate but equal’ despotic Gulf state.

Most notably, Qatar has made overtures towards Iran just as Saudi’s habitually anti-Iranian stance goes into overdrive. The proximate cause of the dispute are now deleted Tweets from Qatar’s state-run news agency wherein Qatar’s supreme ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani spoke warmly about Iran and even praised the Lebanese Resistance Hezbollah, a Shi’a party that is an ally of Iran but one considered a terrorist group by Saudi Arabia and the US.

Although Qatar continues to insist that the Tweet was the product of a hacking hoax, the Saudis are not buying it.

Qatar is by no means pro-Iranian, but pragmatism has led Qatar to seek possible business opportunities, especially in respect of gas deals with the Islamic Republic. The idea that a fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member might have any positive relations with Iran goes against everything Saudi Arabia and the United States stands for.

3. What about Egypt? What do they have in common with Saudi Arabia? 

The short answer is that apart from the kinds of Saudi business dealings that proliferate throughout the entire world with the exceptions of countries like Syria and Iran, Egypt has little practically to do with Saudi.

Egypt is a secular, multi-faith state that has recently been under attack from Salafist terrorist groups like ISIS which are supported by both Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

However, unlike Saudi, Qatar supports the illegal group  Muslim Brotherhood which briefly ruled Egypt between 2012 and 2013 after Barack Obama’s United States abandoned its traditional ally, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Now that secular rule has been restored, Egypt is particularly angry with Qatar for funding and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

That being said, most Egyptians have very negative views about both states as do most moderate Sunnis and virtually all Shi’a Muslims and Christians.

The real shame is that Egypt which was the undisputed leader of the Arab world under the leadership of President Nasser, is now simply following in Saudi’s bleak shadow.

4. Saudi Arabia Accused Qatar of Sponsoring Terrorism…YES THAT Saudi Arabia 

Nobody said that the Saudi regime was honest, even though this time they’ve really gone for it. Saudi Arabia is by any estimation, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism. Qatar is also a state sponsor of much of the same kind of terrorism. Saudi Arabia is correct when it accuses Qatar of sponsoring terrorism, but this doesn’t mean that Saudi Arabia is suddenly on the side of the righteous. It means that Saudi Arabia is simply as hypocritical as it has always been.

In other words…pass the popcorn.

5. The Syrian Connection 

It is widely known that both Saudi Arabia and Qatar are fighting on the same side in Syria, using their mutual terrorist proxies who receive funds and arms from both states. This includes groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda as well as other Salafist terrorist groups.

Secular Ba’athist Syria has no relations with either Qatar or Saudi Arabia and this is unlikely to change in the immediate future.

However, with Saudi and Qatar now at loggerheads, it could mean that terrorists will have to pick which country they are loyal to and in the process they may lose one of their two main cash cows.

Furthermore, with Syria set to win the war against Qatari and Saudi funded terrorism, Qatar’s plans to build a gas pipeline to Turkey, running largely through Syria, may never happen. This was one of the main reasons Qatar sought to overthrow the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic. It might also be a reason why having more or less given up on the Syrian pipeline, Qatar is embarrassingly (for Qatar) turning to Iran, which as everyone knows is fighting Qatari terrorists is Syria along side Iran’s partners against terrorism, The Syrian Arab Republic and Russian Federation.

Russia and America have remained neutral on the dispute as has Pakistan, an ally of both Saudi and Qatar, which depends greatly on investment from both countries.

This dispute will not immediately change the war in Syria, but it could lead to some fracturing in the loyalties and funds of jihadists.

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Qatar’s backtracking on labour rights and its cooperation with Russia reflect new world order


NOVANEWS
Person holding placard saying Qatar Play Fair

By James M. Dorsey

A Qatari decision to backtrack on minimal improvements of the terms of employment of migrant workers, who account for a majority of the Gulf state’s population, and a Qatari investment in Russian oil company Rosneft, symbolise the emergence of a new global power structure characterised by the rise of populists in the United States and Europe, and Russia projecting itself as a key player on the world stage.

The message is that Qatar – and countries like it – which has been under pressure to clean up its human rights act in the wake of winning hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup, no longer feel the need to at least pay lip service to human rights and trade union activists clamouring for an end to kafala, the labour sponsorship system that puts employees at the mercy of their employers.

Investment in Russia

Similarly, the Qatar Investment Authority’s decision to invest USD 5 billion in Rosneft as part of a USD 10.6 billion deal that also involved Glencore Plc had as much to do with geopolitics as with economics. Qatar saw the investment as a way to strengthen political links with Russia as well as develop new business opportunities.

The deal was remarkable for a country that uses investment as a tool to forge relations. Russia and Qatar have not been the closest of friends. Russia suspects Qatar of supporting militant Islamist and jihadist groups in Syria and of having done so earlier in Chechnya when Russia was battling Chechen Islamists there. Russian agents in 2004 assassinated Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in the Qatari capital of Doha.

Qatar’s hedging of its bets comes as it together with other backers of Syrian rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad suffered severe setbacks because of Russian backing for the Syrian leader and the fall of Aleppo…

A statement after a recent phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani as Russian warplanes bombarded Aleppo said the two leaders had discussed ways to “further promote political, trade, economic and humanitarian cooperation”. The statement made no mention of Syria.

All of this is not to say that Qatar is switching allegiances. By dealing with Russia, Qatar is hedging its bets in recognition of the bear’s rise and the rise of populists in the West who are willing to deal with Russia. At the same time, Qatar has said it is committed to investing more than USD 35 billion in the US over the next five years, including USD 10 billion in infrastructure. “A significant part of Qatar’s economic portfolio is its robust relationship with the United States,” said Qatari businessman Muhammad Al Misned in a Forbes magazine op-ed.

Qatar’s hedging of its bets comes as it together with other backers of Syrian rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad suffered severe setbacks because of Russian backing for the Syrian leader and the fall of Aleppo, the rebels’ last urban stronghold. The Russian-backed Syrian advances have left Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia with few good options to shape the battlefield by funding and arming the rebels.

Backtracking on reform

The rise of Russia and the populists appears to have emboldened Qatar to backtrack on pledges it made to reform, if not eliminate the kafala system in response to pressure from human rights and trade union activists using the Gulf state’s World Cup hosting rights as leverage. In a move that has undermined whatever confidence existed in Qatar’s sincerity and willingness to work with its critics, Tamim backtracked on the easing of exit visa restrictions for migrant workers two weeks after a long-heralded law was enacted making changes to the controversial system.

The law introduced an automated system operated by the Interior Ministry to streamline exit visas and remove the power of employers by taking away from them the right to decide whether a worker could leave the country or not. Tamim overruled the law in early January by stipulating that workers would have to inform their recruiter.

In response, Human Rights Watch charged that “changes to the labour law that took effect in 2016 will not protect migrant workers from the serious abuses that characterize Qatar’s construction industry and other low-paid sectors of its economy… Migrant workers will not be able to switch employers, even if the workers experience abuse, and will still need their employer’s permission to leave the country.”

Migrant workers will not be able to switch employers, even if the workers experience abuse, and will still need their employer’s permission to leave the country. (Human Rights Watch)

Qatar’s backtracking followed a victory in a Swiss court by world football body FIFA that has direct impact on the debate over the Gulf state’s labour regime. The court rejected a request by the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV) and two Bangladeshi unions that it rule against FIFA’s awarding of the World Cup to Qatar without first demanding assurances about “fundamental human and labour rights of migrant construction workers, including the abolition of the kafala system”.

The court decision, coupled with the rise of populists who have less concern for human rights, is likely to diminish FIFA’s already weak resolve to put pressure on Qatar to fundamentally reform if not abolish the kafala. FIFA President Gianni Infantino nonetheless insisted last month that “we will put pressure, we will continue to do that”.

The turning tide could prompt activists to attempt to step up pressure on Qatar with calls for boycotts. The Washington-based Alliance for Workers Against Repression Everywhere (AWARE) said last month that it was stepping up efforts to persuade travellers from Boston and other US cities to avoid flying on Qatar’s state-owned airline because of what it alleges are human rights violations by Qatar as well as Qatar Airways. AWARE has used billboard advertisements in US cities serviced by Qatar Airways, op-ed pieces and social media to urge travellers to boycott the airline.

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Qatari soft power efforts: two steps forward, one step backwards


NOVANEWS
Qatar World Cup workers' rights protest

By James M. Dorsey

Efforts to leverage Qatar’s 2022 World Cup hosting rights to create the soft power the Gulf state needs to punch above its weight and ensure a sympathetic hearing in the international community in times of emergency operate on the Leninist principle of two steps forward, one step backwards.

Take events this month as an example.

On the plus side, Qatar’s ambition to host not only the World Cup but also an Olympic Games was boosted with a declaration by Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that he was open to a renewed Qatari bid. Qatar’s last bid failed in part because of criticism of its controversial labour sponsorship, or kafala, system that restricts workers’ rights and puts them at the mercy of their employers.

Cosmetic gestures?

Mr Bach’s statement may well reflect the emergence of a world in which human and other rights count for less with the rise of President-elect Donald J. Trump in the United States and of illiberal, if not authoritarian leaders, in countries ranging from Russia, China and Turkey to Eastern Europe.

Mr Bach could nonetheless come to regret his remark if predictions by Trump insiders prove correct that the new president, reluctant to confront Saudi Arabia head on, is likely to pick on Qatar as a state that plays both ends with its close alliance with the West and hosting of a major US military base while at the same time allegedly supporting militant Islamist and jihadist forces.

Human rights and trade union activists have charged that Qatar is going through motions rather than embarking on truly substantive reform.

Also on the plus side, in a significant gesture to human rights groups and trade unions in a part of the world that refuses to engage with its critics, Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organising committee and a major international trade union, Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), agreed to launch unprecedented joint inspections of the working and living conditions of migrant workers involved in World Cup-related projects.

The agreement is intended to demonstrate Qatari sincerity in reforming the kafala system at a time that it is under fire for moving too slowly. Human rights and trade union activists have charged that Qatar is going through motions rather than embarking on truly substantive reform.

Yet, activists are unlikely to be satisfied even if the inspections prove that living and working conditions of World Cup-related migrant workers have substantially changed. The activists are demanding that far-reaching change be incorporated in national legislation applicable to all workers in the Gulf state and effectively enforced. Changes in national law expected by the end of this year are likely to fall short of activists’ expectations.

“Appalling” abuses

A 52-page Amnesty International report published earlier this month documented what it called “appalling” abuses of the rights of workers employed in the renovation of the Khalifa International Stadium. The Qatari World Cup organising committee said most of the issues in the report that date back to last year have since been addressed.

Finally, Qatar’s willingness to entertain whatever degree of change and engage with its critics is prompting limited change and debate of the labour issue elsewhere in the Gulf. Prominent Saudi journalist Khaled Almaeena, a regime insider, in an article earlier this month denounced the kafala system as “slavery and ownership”.

Mr Almaeena was speaking from experience. He wrore:

I was for 25 years the editor of the Arab News and for two years the Saudi Gazette, both English-language Saudi newspapers. They were the eyes and ears of both Saudis and expatriates, probably more so of the latter. To them, we were a helpline. They wrote to us for advice, assistance, inquiries and support. Most of the letters dealt with working conditions, the breaking of contracts, unfair dismissals and unjust accusations… There was no recourse to legal aid…

Bowing to intolerance

On the minus side, the backlash of the rise of illiberal leaders, the decline of concepts of tolerance and human rights, and a wave of conservatism, if not ultra-conservatism, are making themselves felt.

Qatar University this month cancelled a lecture on women in Islam by prominent Saudi women’s activist Hatoon Al Fassi, a member of the university’s faculty as well as that of Saudi Arabia’s King Saud University, after faculty and students demanded on Twitter that she be sacked for challenging Qatari and Islamic values.

Similarly, the Qatari World Cup committee, in a further indication that Qatar may be backtracking on promises, said that current restrictions on alcohol consumption would be upheld during the World Cup. Qatar had earlier said that venues for alcohol consumption would be expanded from hotel bars to specific locations around the country during the tournament.

Not that alcohol is the litmus test of a successful Qatari World given that the tournament may attract a different demography with far more fans from the Middle East, North Africa and the Muslim world who care less about alcohol than their Western counterparts.

Reinforcing perceptions of wrongdoing in Qatar’s World Cup bid, world football body FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) banned Saoud al-Mohannadi, the vice-president of Qatar’s 2022 committee, for one year for refusing to help in a corruption investigation. The ban dashed Mr Al-Mohannadi’s ambition to become vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and ultimately of FIFA’s governing council

Finally, in a bow to Saudi intolerance of any criticism, Qatar this month fired Jaber Salim Al-Harmi, the editor of Al Sharq newspaper, for tweeting that “other [Gulf] countries slash their citizens’ salaries, while Qatar increases wages. We thank Allah Almighty first and foremost then we thank our leadership which uses national resources for its people’s welfare.”

Mr Al-Harmi’s comment hit at austerity measures across the Gulf, but particularly in Saudi Arabia, that effectively rewrite social contracts under which citizens enjoyed state-provided cradle-to-grave welfare in exchange for surrendering political rights.

Saudi Arabia has been particularly hard hit with stark increases of utility prices and mass layoffs. Qatar this month promised by contrast that it would raise by up to 100 per cent the salaries of government employees, the bulk of the Gulf state’s indigenous labour force.

At the bottom line, Qatar’s massive investment in sports as a soft power tool has yet to withstand a cost-benefit litmus test. Without doubt, Qatar has enacted changes that put it among Gulf states in a class of its own. Yet, it has yet to convince many that those changes are only the beginning of a process that will ultimately lead to true reform.

Posted in Middle EastComments Off on Qatari soft power efforts: two steps forward, one step backwards


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