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Rights groups, Qataris react to Gulf embargo, ultimatum

June 26, 2017 at 11:46 am

Palestinians hold Qatar and Palestine flags during a demonstration in support of Qatar, in Khan Yunis, Gaza [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

International actors and public figures in Qatar have slammed a 13-point list of demands — including one for the closure of the Al Jazeera news network — issued by four Arab states embroiled in a weeks-long political row with Doha.

In a statement, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) described Al Jazeera as “a source of information for citizens in the Middle East and beyond”.

In reference to demands to shut the influential Doha-based TV news network, it added: “The restriction of freedom of speech and media pluralism in the region risks worsening the crisis instead of solving it.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW), for its part, in a statement issued earlier this month, likewise criticised the attitude of certain Gulf countries towards Qatari media outlets, especially Al Jazeera.

“Such actions by other Middle Eastern countries is a blow to free speech,” the New York-based rights watchdog asserted.

“Individuals have a right to express a variety of perspectives on current events,” Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director, was quoted as saying in the statement.

The list of demands also called on Qatar to terminate Turkey’s limited military presence in the small Gulf state.

Speaking on the France 24 television network, Qatari thinker Ali al-Heyl said Doha would never accept interference in its “strategic relations” with Ankara.

“Qatar has a number of regional and global alliances, just like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt,” he asserted.

“As a NATO member, Turkey is a key player in the Middle East and has had historical links with Qatar since before 1913,” he added.

Describing demands that Qatar sever ties with Iran — also included on the list — as “ridiculous”, al-Heyl went on to point out that Abu Dhabi and Tehran were on relatively good terms, despite a longstanding dispute over two islands in the Arabian Gulf.

And in televised comments broadcast on Qatari state television, Mohamed al-Musfir, a political science lecturer at Qatar University, described the ultimatum as “ridiculous”, urging Doha to reject it.

Saying the list constituted an attempt to “subjugate” Qatar, he added that those who had issued it knew Doha would never accept it.

On 5 June, five Arab states — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and Yemen — abruptly cut diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism.

Mauritania followed suit shortly afterwards, while Jordan has downgraded its diplomatic representation in Doha.

Saudi Arabia has also sealed its land border with Qatar, thus geographically isolating it.

Doha, for its part, strenuously denies accusations that it supports terrorism, describing the moves to isolate it as “unjustified”.

On Saturday, Qatar announced it had received a 13-point list of demands by four of the countries arrayed against it — namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain — to end the weeks-long embargo.

According to media reports, demands include the closure of Al Jazeera, the downgrading of Qatar’s ties with Iran, and the extradition of “terrorists” from the country.

The four countries have reportedly given Doha a 10-day deadline in which to meet their demands.

The recent escalations have caused a storm of commentary — including much criticism — on social-media platforms.

Qatari Journalist Jaber al-Harami said via his social media account that the ultimatum was intended to force Qatar into a state of “trusteeship”.

Abdullah al-Uzbe, chief editor of the Qatar-based Al-Arab newspaper, for his part, slammed the countries imposing the embargo, saying: “The revocation of some people’s citizenship and the deportation of Qatari citizens is a violation of Qatar’s sovereignty.”

Prominent Qatari writer Saleh Garib, meanwhile, described the list of demands as “incompatible with Islamic values”.