(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)
Qatar Announces Withdrawal from OPEC
Monday, 3 December, 2018 – 11:15
Qatar’s Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi. (Reuters file photo)
Qatar announced on Monday that it was quitting OPEC from January 2019.
Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi told a news conference that Doha’s decision “was communicated to OPEC” but said Qatar would attend the group’s meeting on Thursday and Friday, and would abide by its commitments, reported Reuters.
He said Doha would focus on its gas potential because it was not practical for Qatar “to put efforts and resources and time in an organization that we are a very small player in.”
Al-Kaabi stressed the decision was not political but related to the country’s long-term strategy and plans to develop its gas industry.
Qatar had been a member of OPEC for 57 years.
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Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists march during a military drill near the border with Israel, east of the town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 27, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)
Tuesday morning’s barrages of mortar shells and rockets into southern Israel were quickly rumored in Gaza to be the work of the Islamic Jihad terror group. And hours after more than two dozen mortar shells hit Israel, the IDF carried out retaliatory strikes that were mainly directed at Islamic Jihad’s military wing.
Islamic Jihad’s role indicates we are witnessing an attempt by Iran to spark a war on the southern border. And if the deterioration of the situation is not halted in the very near future, the attempt may prove successful. Already we have seen an attack on Israeli targets unprecedented since 2014’s Protective Edge conflict, with a consequent Israeli response against targets in Gaza.
The Islamic Jihad barrages were ostensibly aimed at avenging Israel’s reported killing of three of its operatives, who were attempting an attack, earlier this week in the Rafah area. That was the immediate pretext. But the nature and scale of the Islamic Jihad response — heavy fire at civilian targets in Israel — indicates that revenge was not the only motivation. It is possible that this is at root an Iranian move, seeking to have Israel pay a price in the south for targeting Iran in the north — across the border in Syria.
After all, it is hard to believe that Islamic Jihad, a smaller ally-rival of Hamas which is financed and trained primarily by the Iranians, would have initiated this kind of action, with its dramatic consequences for Gaza, without Tehran’s approval.
Israeli soldiers stand guard next to an Israeli Iron Dome defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, deployed along the border with the Gaza strip on May 29, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
Israel has been making clear of late that it operates freely in Syria against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps there; it may well be that there are those in Tehran who want to counter that via the Gaza Strip, or at least to stir up Israel’s southern border and therefore distract Israel’s attention from the north.
Where does Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, fit into this? Hamas was quick to welcome the barrages fired at Israel. And the IDF has also targeted several Hamas facilities. Yet the fact remains that Hamas’s activities in recent months indicate that it is not particularly interested in an escalation, and Israel recognizes this.
Hamas has put the brakes on a potential deterioration into all-out conflict more than once of late, even after its forces were hit. The most obvious recent example of this was on May 14, the day the US inaugurated its embassy in Jerusalem, Nakba Day, when more than 60 Gazans were killed in violent clashes with Israel at the Gaza border. Hamas later acknowledged that almost all of the fatalities were its members. Yet it ordered the dispersal of the protests at the border that evening, to avoid a potential descent into war.
Illustrative. A photo provided by the pro-regime Syrian Central Military Media, shows anti-aircraft fire rise into the sky as Israeli missiles hit air defense positions and other military bases around Damascus, Syria, on May 10, 2018, after the Israeli military says Iranian forces launched a rocket barrage against Israeli bases on the Golan Heights, in the most serious military confrontation between the two bitter enemies to date. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)
Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar and Ismael Haniyeh have been engaged in various secretive contacts of late — intermittently involving Egypt and, separately Qatar — intended to yield understandings for a long-term Hamas-Israel ceasefire. Evidently, however, there are other players — Islamic Jihad and Iran — who want to heat things up.
Islamic Jihad’s attacks on Israel are also embarrassing Hamas in the eyes of the Gaza public. Hamas knows that if its forces do not prevent a continuation of Islamic Jihad fire — whether through the use of force, or threats, or both — there is a considerable likelihood that Gaza will once again find itself at war with Israel. But if Hamas does intervene against Islamic Jihad, its image as the “resistance” against Israel will be undermined. It would risk becoming perceived as another kind of “Palestinian Authority,” collaborating with the Zionist enemy in return for quiet and/or economic benefit.
It appears that the land of the Emirates has been occupied for many thousands of years. Stone tools recovered from Jebel Faya in the emirate of Sharjah reveal a settlement of people from Africa some 127,000 years ago and a stone tool used for butchering animals discovered at Jebel Barakah on the Arabian coast suggests an even older habitation from 130,000 years ago. There is no proof of contact with the outside world at that stage, although in time it developed with civilization in Mesopotamia and Iran. This contact persisted and became wide-ranging, probably motivated by trade in copper from the Hajar Mountains, which commenced around 3000 BCE. In ancient times, Al Hasa (today’s Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia) was part of Al Bahreyn and adjoined Greater Oman (today’s UAE and Oman). From the second century AD, there was a movement of tribes from Al Bahreyn towards the lower Gulf, together with a migration among the Azdite Qahtani (or Yamani) and Quda’ah tribal groups from south-west Arabia towards central Oman. Sassanid groups were present on the Batinah coast. In 637, Julfar (in the area of today’s Ra’s al-Khaimah) was an important port that was used as a staging post for the Islamic invasion of the Sassanian Empire. The area of the Al Ain/Buraimi Oasis was known as Tu’am and was an important trading post for camel routes between the coast and the Arabian interior .
The earliest Christian site in the UAE was first discovered in the 1990s, an extensive monastic complex on what is now known as Sir Bani Yas Island and which dates back to the 7th century. Thought to be Nestorian and built-in 600 AD, the church appears to have been abandoned peacefully in 750 AD. It forms a rare physical link to a legacy of Christianity which is thought to have spread across the peninsula from 50 to 350 AD following trade routes. Certainly, by the 5th century, Oman had a bishop named John – the last bishop of Oman being Etienne, in 676 AD.
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(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)
Emir of Kuwait: Our Mediation in Qatar Crisis Aims to Protect GCC from Rift
Wednesday, 25 October, 2017 – 08:45
The Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah attends the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 9, 2015. Image used for illustrative purpose. REUTERS/Saudi Press Agency/Handout via Reuters/File Photo
Kuwait – Mirza Khuwaildi
Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah stressed on Tuesday, as he opened the legislative term of the parliament, that Kuwait is not a third party, and that its sole goal is to reconcile the two sides, to restore the Gulf home, and make moves to protect it from rifts and collapse.
Kuwait has been actively mediating for a settlement of the crisis that erupted in the open on June 5 between Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE from one side and Qatar from the other.
Sheikh Sabah added, “Therefore, everyone must know the mediation of Kuwait, a country that is aware of the possibility of expansion of this crisis, is not just a traditional mediation by a third party between two different parties. We are one party with the brothers on the two sides.”
He continued, “I am the one who protects the constitution and will not allow it to be prejudiced because it is the basic guarantee after God Almighty,” adding that Kuwait is facing economic challenges that make reforms a pressuring need.
Sheikh Sabah considered that the economic reform program must diversify income sources, reinforce non-oil revenues, develop Kuwaiti human resources, rationalize public expenditure and improve government performance to build a promising future for Kuwait.
National Assembly Speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim described the GCC as the greatest historic achievement and tackled economic challenges of Kuwait. Further, Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah called on Ghanim to open a new page of serious cooperation.
PM affirmed that the government is determined to perform its tasks in nontraditional ways along with developing its performance in which administrative routine complications that disrupt interests and transactions are overcome.
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Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.
Gaza’s leadership finally welcomed the Palestinian Authority with arms wide open to end their dispute.
This is a very important political and humanitarian agreement credited for the government of Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, the first in a decade who succeeded in doing so.
If the deal’s implementation went as planned, and Ramallah and Gaza’s leaders cooperated, one of the worst politicians-made humanitarian disasters would be over.
There is no doubt that Gaza’s leaders, who were drawn into Qatar’s adventures and Iran’s exploitation, are responsible for the dark stage.
For ten painful years the densely populated strip suffered, and its people witnessed devastating wars having no political objectives. The factions in the enclave fought with extremists and radicals.
Trade was banned, tunnels were blocked, swimming in the sea was forbidden, and fishermen were constrained.
The suffering began when the airport, symbol of peace promise and better future, was closed.
Most of Gaza’s news became about the crossing point, and when it would be open for humanitarian cases.
The people’s suffering was neither a national duty nor a political necessity. It was rather a nonsensical disagreement and personal rivalry over leadership.
Not until the new agreement goes into full effect for weeks and months, will we be certain that it will last. However, this remains the best thing that has happened in years.
Can Rami Hamdallah’s government run the enclave and coexist with Hamas simultaneously? Will disagreements be forgotten and replaced by a cooperation that shall unite the strip back with the West Bank?
Many old reasons make this a difficult task, and even if it succeeds today, it might not last.
Gaza’s return to Ramallah is an important sign on the Palestinian leadership’s ability to speak on behalf of all Palestinians.
The reconciliation puts an end to Israel’s rejection of peace claiming that “Hamas,” “Islamic Jihad”, and other armed opposition movements thwarted past attempts for peace.
Reconciliation opens the door to any international desire to launch a new initiative.
Even if a serious peace plan is not produced, at least it will be possible to reform the internal Palestinian situation shattered by conflicts over authority.
Egypt’s return is an important new peace factor. It was responsible for sponsoring the Gaza Strip, hadn’t it been for the Qatari-Iranian interventions that struck Egypt’s role, created a wall of fear and closed the strip.
During the 10 years of intra-Palestinian conflict, Egypt tried to mediate but failed. However, this is the first time we see a sign of hope in ending the conflict between two brothers.
Sincere intentions are required so that the authority isn’t tempted into total domination, nor does it become a victim of Hamas’ deception to open the crossings in order to overcome the crisis, provide its needs, and then return to disagreement and estrangement.
Reconciliation and the opening of Gaza may be the door to regional stability and a sign of an end to regional chaos.
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Only 48 hours into Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt putting their boycott with Qatar into effect, Doha straightaway announced resorting to Turkish army troops.
The move shocked all Gulf States and even other foreign forces. Neither was the rift with Qatar a newly found dilemma, nor was the list of demands put forth by the quartet unexpected. Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had already signed onto them, but without fully falling through with implementation.
Political disputes and crises– among Arab Gulf countries in particular– have long been known to be settled through diplomacy and never military interventions.
In a nutshell, the four countries practiced rights dictated by sovereignty and have shut down all vents that could allow for evil or terror to come through the Qatari peninsula. On the other hand, Qatar’s response was to open up all ports and airspace to military troops—although it paradoxically made claims of being put under a brutal siege. The move presented a disastrous escalation for the region.
Doha, without previous warning, decided on militarizing a diplomatic crisis, unaware of the grave tensions it brought along by inviting foreign troops into the region.
Even though boycotting countries made it clear on many occasions that the row with Qatar goes beyond independent perceptions and is based on views shared by many other Arab and Islamic countries, Qatar’s reactions were shocking, nonsensical and quite rebellious–anyone could see that.
Many times, Doha’s policy-making decisions went against the interests of the Qatari people. Its confused stance and promotion of delusional claims on military threats, counteractively verifies the truth behind the quartet’s position and reasons for distancing itself up until this very moment.
Qatar’s escalatory stances sent a dangerous message it fails to see the aftermath entailed, given they compromise regional security and stability. Despite the Saudi-led bloc of four not going after a military option itself, the boycotting countries –like any other country in the world- are obliged to uphold their national security.
It is only natural that they do not allow for Doha to bring about impending threats to the security and stability of their people, which inviting foreign troops into the Gulf region exactly does. All the more, Qatar’s move was based on invalid justifications.
Absurdly, a state coming from a politically, socially and military weak position would still take on the risk of provoking mightier neighboring states which itself accuses of attempting to impose a regime change within its territory.
The matter of the fact is that regime change in Qatar was never an option, and that the goal was clearly defined by forcing the peninsula to reconsider its aggressive behavior.
It is worth noting that by Qatar turning to loud rhetoric, political cries, and foreign military intervention to escape its diplomatic crisis evidently proves that Doha policies weren’t strong enough to preserve the stability of its ruling regime in the first place. A thought-provoking scene of political adolescence?!
US President Donald Trump summarized the whole feeble Qatari cry on it being under the threat of military intervention by telling the Emir of Qatar himself “no,” when he asked Trump on whether he had warned the Saudis against taking up military action against Qatar.
Qatar’s position was embarrassing as the president of a world super power snubs its narrative which was the product of a grievances-based policy. The same cry it used to justify allowing foreign forces to set foot in the region. Qatar wrongly employed a strategy to incite the four countries, but it only backfired as it proved Doha’s regime fragile and a volatile threat to both Gulf state and regional security.
Doha’s credibility before the world has been compromised by its own lies. The Qatari regime has emerged with no cover to confront the boycott’s effects. Promoting military intervention only shows how fear-struck the peninsula regime is.
Day by day, the crisis deepens as Doha turns a blind eye. What Qatar truly fears is not ‘military intervention’, but its revolutionary policies proving a costly failure which the regime cannot easily dodge.
Saudi Arabia says it has suspended dialogue with Qatar, shortly after a phone call between the Qatari leader and the Saudi crown prince.
The two sides had discussed holding talks to resolve the Qatar crisis, which has seen Doha cut off from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE.
However, Saudi Arabia then accused Qatar of distorting facts about the call, and said it was ending talks.
The four countries say Qatar supports terrorism – something Doha denies.
The row led to all four Arab nations cutting ties with Qatar on 5 June – Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar, while all four countries cut air and sea links with the country.
Friday’s phone call, which came after US President Donald Trump spoke separately with both sides, had initially been seen as a possible breakthrough in the crisis.
The call was the first formal contact between Riyadh and Doha since the crisis began.
State media on both sides reported that Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had discussed the need for dialogue to resolve the crisis.
Who said what?
The Saudi Press Agency said Qatar’s leader had “expressed his desire to sit at the dialogue table and discuss the demands of the four countries”, and that further details would be announced after Saudi Arabia reached an agreement with Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE.
Meanwhile, the Qatar News Agency said the Saudi crown prince had proposed assigning “two envoys to resolve controversial issues in a way that does not affect the sovereignty of states”.
Shortly afterwards, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of not being “serious” about dialogue, and said communications between the two sides would be suspended.
The row appears to be over protocol – observers say Saudi Arabia is angered that Qatari state media did not make clear that the call was initiated by Doha.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued a report on blasphemy laws around the world, with the top five worst-scoring nations all seeking to protect Islam.
“In all five of the worst-scoring countries (Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Qatar), the blasphemy laws aim to protect the state religion of Islam in a way that impermissibly discriminates among different groups,” a press release from the organization stated on Wednesday.
The major report found that 71 of the world’s 195 countries have blasphemy laws, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment and death.
USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark said that religious freedom should protect people’s rights to express their thoughts and beliefs, even those that others may find blasphemous.
“Advocates for blasphemy laws may argue that they are needed in order to protect religious freedom, but these laws do no such thing. Blasphemy laws are wrong in principle, and they often invite abuse and lead to assaults, murders, and mob attacks. Wherever they exist, they should be repealed,” Mark insisted.
Christians and other religious minorities have been targeted by such blasphemy laws in Pakistan where they’re punished any time an accusation of having insulted the Islamic faith is lobbed against them.
In June, a Pakistani Christian father was arrested on charges of blasphemy after he asked a Muslim man to pay for a bicycle that he had repaired the week before, but was then accused by the same man of insulting Islam.
Islamic hardliners have also taken justice into their own hands. In one instance in November 2014, a Christian couple was burned to death by a mob after they were accused of having desecrated the Quran, a claim that turned out to be false.
Iran, which persecutes Christians, Baha’is, and other minorities, has threatened to execute anyone who’s accused of insulting the Islamic faith.
The Iranian government has been particularly concerned about the rise of Christianity in the country, especially among youths. This has led to Islamic seminary officials calling on the government to “stop the spread” of the faith.
Though the majority of high-ranking countries beyond the top five focused on defending Islamic sensibilities, Italy and its blasphemy laws protecting the Roman Catholic Church also scored a high ranking, coming in at number seven.
Article 403 of Italy’s criminal code reads:
“Anyone who insults the State religion in public by offending those who profess it shall be subject to a prison sentence of up to two years. Anyone who insults the State religion by insulting a minister of the Catholic Church shall be subject to a prison sentence of one to three years.”
USCIRF noted in its report that most of the blasphemy laws that it studied were “vaguely worded,” and failed to specify intent as part of the violation. It added that a majority of blasphemy laws are embedded in the criminal codes of countries, with 86 percent of nations with such laws threatening imprisonment for offenders.
“Though implementation varies, countries from Switzerland to Sudan persist in outlawing expression of views deemed ‘blasphemous,'” Mark added.
“Some countries, including Canada, have such laws but do not actively enforce them. We call upon those countries to set an example for the others and repeal their blasphemy laws. And we call upon all countries to repeal any such laws and to free those detained or convicted for blasphemy.”
DOHA, Qatar — Take a drive in Doha, leaving behind the mirrored skyscrapers and palm-fringed avenues of this gas-rich city, and the protagonists of myriad conflicts are in easy reach.
In one western district, near the campuses hosting branches of American universities, Taliban officials and their families can be found window-shopping in the cavernous malls or ordering takeout meals from a popular Afghan eatery.
A few miles away at a vast United States military base with 9,000 American personnel, warplanes take off on missions to bomb the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — and sometimes the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Officials from Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, work from a luxury villa near the British Embassy, and recently held a news conference in a ballroom at the pyramid-shape Sheraton hotel.
The Sheraton hotel in Doha.CreditKarim Jaafar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
And an elderly Egyptian cleric, a fugitive from Cairo, is a popular fixture on the city’s swank social scene, and was recently spotted at a wedding by an American diplomat who was attending the same celebration.
This is the atmosphere of intrigue and opulence for which the capital of Qatar, a dust-blown backwater until a few decades ago, has become famous as the great freewheeling hub of the Middle East.
Against a backdrop of purring limousines and dhows moored in the bay, Doha has become home to an exotic array of fighters, financiers and ideologues, a neutral city with echoes of Vienna in the Cold War, or a Persian Gulf version of the fictional pirate bar in the “Star Wars” movies.
Yet that welcome-all attitude is precisely what has recently angered Qatar’s much larger neighbors and plunged the Middle East into one of its most dramatic diplomatic showdowns. For more than a month, four Arab countries have imposed a sweeping air, sea and land blockade against Qatarthat, in a nutshell, boils down to a demand that Doha abandon its adventurist foreign policy, and that it stop giving shelter to such a broad range of agents in its capital.
So far, the blockade is not working, and the crisis looks set to worsen. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson flew back to Washington on Thursday after days of apparently fruitless shuttle diplomacy in the region. The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain have also intervened, without success.
The blockading nations — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emiratesand Bahrain — insist that Qatar is using an open-door policy to destabilize its neighbors. They say that Doha, rather than the benign meeting ground described by Qataris, is a city where terrorism is bankrolled, not battled against.
Qatar’s self-identity as a center of refuge dates to the 19th century, when its desolate and semilawless territory offered sanctuary to outlaws, pirates and people fleeing persecution across the Arabian Peninsula.
“It’s always been this place where waifs and strays and unwanted people ended up,” said David Robert, the author of “Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City-State” and an assistant professor at King’s College in London. “There was no overarching power on the peninsula, so if you were wanted by a sheikh, you could escape to Qatar and nobody would bother you.”
In the 19th century, Qatar’s founding leader, Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, called it the “Kaaba of the dispossessed” — a reference to the revered black cube at the Great Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, and a figurative way of describing Qatar as a lodestar for those seeking refuge.
That national trait turned into a policy for Al Thani’s descendants, who since the mid-1990s have thrown open Qatar’s doors to dissidents and exiles of every stripe. Doha has welcomed Saddam Hussein’s family, one of Osama bin Laden’s sons, the iconoclastic Indian painter M. F. Husain and the Chechen warlord Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who was assassinated in the city by Russian secret agents in 2004. (The agents were caught and later extradited to Russia.)
A QatarGas offshore drilling rig in the Persian Gulf. Qatar shares the world’s third-largest gas field with Iran.CreditUllstein Bild, via Getty Images
Qatar can afford to be generous. It shares the world’s third-largest gas field with Iran, yet has just 300,000 citizens, making it the richest country per capita. In recent decades, Doha has transformed into a gleaming metropolis of global ambition where luxury cars crowd the streets and world-renowned architects have traced its futuristic skyline. An army of imported laborers is building stadiums and subway lines for the 2022 World Cup.
But among fellow Arab states, Qatar’s image has been shaped by its contentious policy of come one, come all.
In Doha, wealthy Qataris and Western expatriates mingle with Syrian exiles, Sudanese commanders and Libyan Islamist’s, many of them funded by the Qatari state. The Qataris sometimes play peacemaker: Their diplomats brokered a peace deal in Lebanon in 2008 and negotiated the release of numerous hostages, including Peter Theo Curtis, an American journalist being held in Syria, in 2014.
But critics say that, often as not, rather than acting as a neutral peacemaker, Qatar takes sides in conflicts — helping oust Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya in 2011, or turning a blind eye to wealthy citizens who funnel cash to extremist Islamist groups in Syria.
And what infuriates the Saudis, Emiratis, Egyptians and Bahrainis most of all is that Doha has also provided shelter to Islamist dissidents from their own countries — and given them a voice on the Qatar-owned television station, Al Jazeera.
The Egyptian cleric seen at a wedding recently, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is a prominent booster for the Muslim Brotherhood and once had an influential show on Al Jazeera, where he dispensed teachings on matters from suicide bombings to personal sexuality.
“We have the ‘children bomb,’ and these human bombs must continue until liberation,” he told his audience in 2002.
Even though Mr. Qaradawi is now 91 and stopped his TV show four years ago, his presence in Qatar is an irritant for Egypt, and his name is featured prominently on a list of 59 people that the blockading countries want deported from Qatar. They have also demanded the closing of Al Jazeera.
This and many of the demands from the blockading countries are seen as impossibly broad, leading to widespread pessimism that the standoff will end anytime soon.
“The Emiratis and the Saudis seem to have miscalculated their position,” said Mehran Kamrava, the author of “Qatar: Small State, Big Politics” and a professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. “They thought that if they went all-out with a blockade, the Qataris would balk. But they haven’t.”
Doha’s Taliban residents do not figure on the list of demands from the blockaders, but their presence does embody the wider debate around the merits of Qatar’s open-door approach.
Peace talks between the militants and Afghan officials, initiated by the United States in 2013, quickly collapsed. Yet a Taliban contingent stayed on, and Doha is now is home to about 100 Taliban officials and their relatives, who live comfortably at Qatari state expense, one Afghan official said.
There were further, unofficial talks in 2015 and 2016. But as the fight in Afghanistan grinds on, some experts question whether the supposed Taliban peace advocates might be quietly facilitating more war.
Michael Semple, a Taliban scholar at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, said that until the blockade, Taliban leaders in Qatar were known to frequently travel by road from Qatar, through Saudi Arabia, to the United Arab Emirates, where they have investments, and to fund-raise there among the Afghan communities in the cities of Sharjah and Dubai.
“Clearly they are using their foothold in the gulf to try and fund-raise and legitimize,” he said. “If they haven’t broached the substantive issues around peace, and the other gains are modest, then you could argue that that Qatar initiative makes things worse.”
In recent years, Doha has been home to Khaled Mishal, who stepped down this year as leader of Hamas, and the country provided the group a site for talks with the former British prime minister and Mideast peace envoy Tony Blair, in 2015.
Although former Secretary of State John F. Kerry publicly criticized the Hamas presence, American officials privately say they would prefer Hamas was based in Doha rather than in a hostile capital like Tehran.
The promenade known locally as the Doha Corniche in Doha.CreditNaseem Zeitoon/Reuters
In keeping with its open-door approach, Doha was home to an Israeli trade office from 1996 to 2008. Although relations have soured, Qatar promises that Israel will be allowed to participate in the 2022 World Cup.
In the current crisis, Qatar is leveraging the wide range of ties its foreign policy has fostered. Food supplies and a few dozen soldiers from Turkey arrived in Doha after the embargo started on June 5. Turkish news reports say the military contingent could swell to 1,000 troops, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Doha in the coming days.
Late one night last weekend, revelers were spilling from a trendy hotel nightclub in Doha as two athletic Turkish men checked in. Entering the elevator with their bags, they declared themselves glad to be in Doha, and described themselves as working in the “defense sector,” then with a smile declined to say any more.
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