‘Close al-Jazeera’: Saudi Arabia gives Qatar 13 demands to end blockade
What is Qatar’s position in the Middle East?
Qatar occupies a tiny headland on the Arabian peninsula, with a single land border with Saudi Arabia and across the sea from Iran. The former British protectorate gained its independence in 1971 and has since been ruled by the al-Thani family. With the highest per capita income in the world, the tiny monarchy has grown fabulously wealthy on the back of massive oil and natural gas reserves. Tensions with its Gulf Arab neighbours have grown in recent years over support for Islamist movements that emerged from the Arab Spring. It now finds itself isolated and backed into a corner.
The closure of the Qatar-funded broadcaster al-Jazeera is among 13 wide-ranging demands tabled by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States as the price for lifting a two-week trade and diplomatic embargo of Qatar.
The list, obtained by Associated Press, constitutes the first time Saudi Arabia has been prepared to put in writing the often ill-defined demands it is making of Qatar.
Saudi Arabia and the other nations leading the blockade – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – have in recent days been put under pressure by the US state department to set out specific demands in an effort to help establish a mediation process.
The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has said the demands had to be reasonable and actionable. Donald Trump, the US president, has appeared more sympathetic towards the Saudis, in what has become the Gulf’s worst diplomatic dispute in decades.
The Saudi-led alliance regards al-Jazeera, the most widely watched broadcaster in the Arab world, as a propaganda tool for Islamists that also undermines support for their governments.
Other key demands include reducing ties with Iran and closing a Turkish military base.
The demands in full are:
- Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
- Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
- Shut down al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
- Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
- Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
- Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.
- Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
- End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
- Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
- Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
- Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
- Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
- Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.
Turkey’s defence minister rejected suggestions that it should review its military base in Qatar and said any demand for its closure would represent interference in Ankara’s relations with the Gulf state.
Turkey’s defence minister, Fikri Işık, told broadcaster NTV that he had not seen a demand for the base to be shut. “The base in Qatar is both a Turkish base and one that will preserve the security of Qatar and the region,” he said.
There is no suggestion in the list that there must be regime change inside Qatar. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Qatar will see the demands as the basis for serious negotiations.
Qatar has become reliant on Turkey, and to a lesser extent Iran, for the supply of food since since the embargo came into force on 5 June. It has previously said it would not hold talks until the embargo was lifted.
Speaking on Thursday, before the 13 demands were tabled, Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, said his country had always abided by international laws and played a key role in the international coalition fighting Isis.
“Qatar does not support the Nusra Front in Syria … and it does not support any terrorist organisation,” he told France 24, referring to the old name for the Islamist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
Cutting ties to Iran would prove incredibly difficult – Qatar shares with Iran a massive offshore natural gas field, which supplies the small nation that will host the 2022 Fifa World Cup with much of its wealth.
Qatar insists it does not fund terrorists, and says the embargo is a punishment for following an independent foreign policy more sympathetic to the principles of the Arab spring.