Rival Gulf states give Qatar 10 days to close Al Jazeera

Shutdown of broadcaster among 13 demands sent to Doha by its Arab neighbours

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain have issued demands to Qatar. Photograph: AFP

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain have issued demands to Qatar. Photograph: AFP

 

The Arab states that have cut ties with Qatar have given the Gulf nation 10 days to comply with a series of demands, including the closure of the Al Jazeera satellite television channel.

The 13-point list also insists that Qatar limits its relations with Iran, immediately shuts down a Turkish military base and halts military co-operation with Ankara.

The list was drafted nearly three weeks after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic relations and cut land, sea and air links to Qatar, alleging that the Gulf state sponsors terrorism.

“Shut down Al Jazeera channels and affiliated channels,” said point six of the document written in Arabic, the title of which translates as Joint Requirements for Qatar.

The wide-ranging demands, which also instruct Qatar to pay reparations to the four countries that initiated the boycott as compensation for its policies, are unlikely to be met, frustrating US efforts to end the dispute that has set important US Gulf allies against each other.

The list of demands encompasses other accusations that have already been denied by Qatari officials, raising the prospect of deadlock in the worst crisis to hit the Gulf in decades.

Qatar’s foreign minister previously said any demand to close Al Jazeera would be rejected, describing the channel as an “internal affair” linked to Qatar’s sovereignty that should not be the subject of external interference. Arab states have long complained that Al Jazeera’s Arabic language channel is a propaganda tool that stokes tensions in the region. Al Jazeera insists it has editorial independence.

Muslim Brotherhood

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson cancelled a trip to Cancún this week in an effort to bring the dispute between the US allies to an end. He urged the countries to deliver the list to Qatar, which hosts the US’s main military base in the Middle East, after growing exasperated with slow progress.

“It has to be reasonable and actionable,” state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said of the list of demands. “If you’re going to ask Qatar to do something, and to do something differently, it has to be something that they are actually capable of doing.”

The list, handed over by Kuwait which is mediating in the dispute, also says Qatar should publicly cut ties with a host of Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, stop its alleged funding of terrorism and hand over alleged terrorists according to a list determined by the four countries that initiated the boycott against it.

The list specifies that Doha sever ties to radical jihadist groups such as Islamic State, al-Qaeda and its branch in Syria, as well as Lebanon’s Shia group Hizbullah.

Qatar, the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas, admits that it supports Islamist groups, but denies backing or financing terrorism.

“These requirements must be met within 10 days from the date of delivery or they will be considered void,” the Arab states said in their list of demands. Their document added that compliance would be heavily monitored - once a month for the first year, every three months the second year and once a year for 10 years after that.

Doha has repeatedly said it was prepared to negotiate concessions if provided with a list of complaints, but only if accompanied by evidence and so long as it did not risk Qatar’s independence.

“We are convinced this is nothing to do with fighting terrorism; they want to undermine our sovereignty,” Meshal bin Hamad al-Thani, Qatar’s ambassador to the US, told the FT this week.

World Cup

The demands include an insistence that Qatar – long considered by its neighbours to be a maverick - align itself “militarily, politically, socially, economically” with other Gulf and Arab states.

The blockade has hampered food and medical deliveries to Qatar and risks hindering its preparations for the 2022 football World Cup. The dispute comes at a time of rising tensions in the region, particularly between Saudi Arabia and its rival Iran.

Saudi and the UAE have threatened to fine or jail residents expressing sympathy for Qatar on social media.

There was no immediate response from the countries behind the list or from Qatar.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017