Accused of Supporting Terror, Qatar Points the Finger at its Neighbors

  • Qatar’s ambassador to U.S. assails U.A.E. in WSJ article
  • Saudi-led alliance has cut ties, transport links with Qatar

Qatar Crisis Enters Its Third Week

Qatar’s ambassador to the U.S. accused the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia of committing the same sins they’re boycotting his country for, as the worst crisis among Gulf Arab monarchies enters its third week.

Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar's ambassador to the U.S.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

“Emiratis, not Qataris, were among the hijackers who flew planes into the Twin Towers,’’ Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani wrote in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, responding to a similar article penned by his U.A.E. counterpart last week. “The U.A.E. was singled out in the 9/11 Commission’s report for its role in laundering money to terrorists.”

Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. and Bahrain severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar on June 5, accusing their fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member of supporting terrorism, a charge the Qataris deny. On June 12, Yousef Al Otaiba, the U.A.E.’s ambassador to the U.S., wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Qatar shouldn’t be allowed to own landmarks and businesses globally while using the proceeds to finance extremist groups.

A senior U.A.E. official warned that the isolation could last for years if Qatar doesn’t change its policies, Reuters reported on Monday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson canceled a trip to Mexico to try to resolve the crisis as mediation by Kuwait continues. The Saudi-led alliance has yet to submit a list of demands to end the diplomatic and economic isolation of the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

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Two of the 19 hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center towers in 2001 came from the U.A.E. while 15 others were Saudi. The remaining two were Lebanese and Egyptian.

“The United Nations and the U.S. Treasury Department list 10 times as many suspected terrorists and terrorist financiers from the boycotting countries as from Qatar,” Qatar’s envoy to Washington wrote.

Qatar has been a maverick in the GCC, enjoying cordial relations with Iran and supporting Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its Hamas offshoot in the Gaza Strip. Its media network Al Jazeera has embarrassed or angered most Middle Eastern governments. Yet the current strains are unprecedented.

Qatar’s isolation could “last years” if it doesn’t change its policies, Reuters quoted U.A.E. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash as saying on Monday. A list of grievances Arab nations have with Qatar will be completed in the next few days, Gargash said.

Saving Face

The conflict could drag on much longer than people expect because the U.S. isn’t focused on the region now and seems to have handed its GCC portfolio to the Emiratis and the Saudis, said Sanam Vakil, associate fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East & North Africa Program.

“Qatar doesn’t have much of a choice in this,’’ Vakil said. “There has to be a face-saving measure and a quick resolution would signal weakness.’’

Meanwhile, officials in Doha sought to reassure a nation shocked by the ferocity of the measures against it, including the expulsion of Qatari nationals and the recall of Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini families from Qatar. Qatar’s Economy and Commerce Minister Sheikh Ahmed Al-Thani told Qatar TV in an interview that business is “running as usual” and construction work for the 2022 soccer World Cup is going ahead as planned.

Qatar “dealt swiftly with the closure of borders by getting products through sea and different means,” and reserves of some products could last a year, state-run Qatar News Agency quoted the minister as saying.

At the same time, government spokesman Sheikh Saif Bin Ahmed Al-Thani deplored the effect the boycott was having on GCC nations. “The social-fabric of GCC population is being torn apart for political reasons,” he wrote in a statement.

“It is clear that the actions of the blockading nations have little to do with addressing legitimate grievances and everything to do with attacking Qatar’s image and reputation,” he added. “The blockading nations are using terrorism as a publicity stunt.”

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