From Rus­sian hack­ers to fake news – here’s what of its neigh­bours

CityPress - - Voices - Them­bisa Fakude voices@city­

The iso­la­tion cam­paign of Qatar led by Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE) and Bahrain demon­strates the po­lit­i­cal anomaly of the Gulf. The sud­den and dras­tic po­lit­i­cal sanc­tion­ing of Qatar is un­prece­dented and demon­strates the level of harsh­ness they can in­flict on their own if they “mis­be­have”.

Qatar – to­gether with Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Ara­bia, Oman and Kuwait – is part of the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tive Coun­cil (GCC). The GCC is a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic union that was founded in 1981 to serve the in­ter­ests of the Gulf states. Saudi Ara­bia has dom­i­nated the GCC from its in­cep­tion, in­clud­ing its for­eign re­la­tions po­si­tions.

How­ever, over the years, Qatar has adopted in­de­pen­dent for­eign po­si­tions that con­flicted with cer­tain coun­tries within the GCC. Among those was the es­tab­lish­ment of Al Jazeera Me­dia Net­work in 1996. The es­tab­lish­ment and the con­tin­ued fund­ing of Al Jazeera by Qatar has height­ened the po­lit­i­cal ten­sion within the GCC.

Most mem­bers of the coun­cil re­gard Al Jazeera as an ex­tended arm of Qatar that is meant to desta­bilise the re­gion. The ex­pec­ta­tion is for Qatar to con­trol Al Jazeera, in­clud­ing in­flu­enc­ing its ed­i­to­rial in­de­pen­dence when­ever nec­es­sary. Qatar has in­sisted, cor­rectly, that Al Jazeera is an in­de­pen­dent en­tity from gov­ern­ment. In­deed, its man­power and com­po­si­tion are dif­fer­ent to those that have dom­i­nated the news me­dia space in the re­gion.

The lat­est po­lit­i­cal rift in the Gulf can be traced to two in­ci­dences.

First, there was a re­port that was pub­lished by the Qatar News Agency (QNA) on May 23 this year that at­trib­uted false re­marks to the Emir of Qatar, Sheik Tamim bin Ha­mad al Thani, “that ap­peared friendly to Iran and Is­rael and ques­tioned whether Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump would last in of­fice”. Qatar is­sued a state­ment soon af­ter those re­marks were pub­lished, re­fut­ing the re­ports as fake news. In a state­ment, Qatar claimed that the re­port was as a re­sult of hack­ing of the QNA web­site. Those claims were con­firmed on June 7 in an ex­clu­sive re­port re­leased by CNN that stated that “in­tel­li­gence gath­ered by the US se­cu­rity agen­cies in­di­cates that Rus­sian hack­ers were be­hind the in­tru­sion first re­ported by the Qatari gov­ern­ment two weeks ago”.

The fake news re­ports where pub­lished and re­ported widely by some news or­gan­i­sa­tions in the re­gion, even af­ter Qatar’s gov­ern­ment re­futed the re­ports.

Sec­ond, days af­ter the in­ter­cept, an on­line pub­li­ca­tion based in the US re­leased the first batch of leaked emails of the UAE’s am­bas­sador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba.

The in­ter­cept leaks “show a close re­la­tion­ship be­tween Al Otaiba and a pro-Is­rael, neo­con­ser­va­tive think-tank – the Foun­da­tion for De­fence of Democ­ra­cies”. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

David Hearst, the edi­tor in chief of the Mid­dle East Eye, told Al Jazeera the emails laid bare the “mech­a­nism be­hind a high­stakes cam­paign that is be­ing launched against Qatar”.

The se­quence of events above at­tempts to ex­plain the rea­sons for the lat­est po­lit­i­cal spat. How­ever, there is other po­lit­i­cal ten­sion be­tween cer­tain Gulf states and Qatar that are worth men­tion­ing to put ev­ery­thing into per­spec­tive.

Qatar is the sec­ond-largest nat­u­ral gas ex­porter in the world af­ter Rus­sia. It shares gas ex­plo­ration ac­tiv­i­ties with Iran in the Gulf – it is one of the many ties that binds them. Qatar’s gas ex­plo­ration fields are in the south­ern por­tion of the Gulf known as North Field, while Iran ex­plores to the north in what is called South Pars.

Trump’s de­ci­sion to leave the Paris Agree­ment and his in­di­ca­tion to pull out of the P5+1 Agree­ment, also known as the Iran Nu­clear Agree­ment, put Qatar in a dif­fi­cult po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion. The sources of rev­enue for most Gulf states re­main un­di­ver­si­fied – they are still largely de­pen­dent on petroleum. Gas is the pre­ferred en­ergy of the fu­ture and it puts Qatar and Iran in a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion to those of the GCC. Qatar and Iran stand to ben­e­fit more in the gas-dom­i­nated econ­omy of the fu­ture. It is ex­pected, there­fore, that Qatar and the rest of the Gulf states will dif­fer on many poli­cies, in­clud­ing blan­ket en­dorse­ment of Trump’s de­ci­sions, the Paris Agree­ment and the pos­si­bil­ity of pulling out from the P5+1 Agree­ment.

Un­like most Gulf coun­tries, the P5+1 Agree­ment was wel­comed by Qatar.

The nor­mal­i­sa­tion of Iran will cer­tainly fa­cil­i­tate busi­ness for the coun­try. Qatar has a sub­stan­tial fleet of gas car­ri­ers that could be used by Iran as it re-en­ters the lu­cra­tive gas mar­ket.

Gas ex­plo­ration at such a scale has placed Qatar firmly as an im­por­tant force in the world. It has there­fore be­come bois­ter­ous in its de­mon­stra­tion of po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence. The wealth that the coun­try ac­cu­mu­lated over a short space of time has fur­ther strength­ened its re­solve. Qatar has used its wealth to buy in­flu­ence and sup­port through­out the world. Ac­cord­ing to The Tele­graph, “Qatar owns more of Lon­don than the Queen”.

More­over, Qatar’s for­eign pol­icy has tended to mir­ror the as­pi­ra­tions of the masses of the Mid­dle East. It was quite vo­cal in its sup­port of the Arab Spring and opened Doha into a meet­ing space for the rev­o­lu­tion­ary and pro­gres­sive forces of the re­gion. When the Arab Spring back­fired in Egypt, many fled to Doha for po­lit­i­cal refuge.

Qatar and Turkey were also the first among Mus­lim coun­tries to con­demn the coup in Egypt. Con­se­quently, Turkey and Qatar host the largest num­bers of Ikhwanul Mus­limin (Mus­lim Brother­hood) in the Mid­dle East.

Qatar also hosts the lead­er­ship of Ha­mas, which was given a safe pas­sage into the coun­try when the con­flict in Syria en­sued in 2011. Qatar’s re­la­tion­ship with Ha­mas and other Pales­tinian fac­tions has el­e­vated the sta­tus of Qatar within the rank and file in the re­gion. The coun­try is also en­gaged in me­di­a­tion in var­i­ous con­flicts in Africa and the Mid­dle East.

Fi­nally, the red car­pet that was rolled out for Trump, notwith­stand­ing his de­clared neg­a­tive sen­ti­ments about Is­lam and Mus­lims, was hu­mil­i­at­ing to many in the Arab and Mus­lim world.

Most felt that the un­elected lead­er­ship could have, at least, stood up to Trump on ba­sic is­sues. They could have de­manded clarifications on his past com­ments that were laced with Is­lam­o­pho­bia.

In­stead, Trump was al­lowed to present a “lec­ture on Is­lam” to the Arab and Mus­lim lead­ers gath­ered in Riyadh and there­after left the coun­try scot-free.

The iso­la­tion of Qatar couldn’t have come at a bet­ter time; it will ab­solve Qatar from the neg­a­tive per­cep­tion of the col­lec­tive Arab lead­er­ship, par­tic­u­larly af­ter Trump’s visit to Riyadh. Fakude is the head of the English unit at the Al Jazeera Cen­tre for Stud­ies in Doha, the for­mer bureau chief of Al Jazeera in south­ern Africa and the for­mer chair­per­son of the For­eign

Cor­re­spon­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion of South­ern Africa

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