Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) issued what can only be described as an onerous list of thirteen demands to Qatar. I previously wrote about the GCC’s cutting of ties with Qatar – and the unprecedented level of GCC coordination and cooperation from such an action.
The Middle East has realigned dramatically, dividing itself between those regimes who support extremism and those who oppose it. The GCC, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have chosen to stand against extremism. Iran – and Turkey – have chosen otherwise.
Qatar – a member of the GCC – has quietly, yet consistently, chosen to align itself with extremists – particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar supported the extremist factions in Syria throughout the civil war. And Qatar has subtly aligned itself with Iran – in direct opposition to the Saudi/Egypt led efforts to align Arab nations against the Iranian regime.
The allied GCC Arab nations want an end to Qatari interference in domestic politics, an end to support for extremism – and a strong unified GCC stance against Iran.
The pressure is perhaps the greatest ever placed on Qatar – certainly much greater than 2014, when Qatar was forced to stop its explicit support and harboring of the Muslim Brotherhood. With the closure of the Qatari-Saudi border, the Gulf Cooperation Council is showing its seriousness. This represents Qatar’s only land-based border – a factor all the more crucial as Qatar imports virtually all of its food.
Ultimately, the actions taken against Qatar center around presenting a unified GCC front against the Iranian regime. And represent the first step in shifting focus and pressure on Iran directly.
Egypt’s El-Sisi has taken a courageous leadership role against extremism. In 2013, he dissolved the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and ultimately pushed them out of the country. The Muslim Brotherhood fled Egypt and sought refuge in Qatar. El-Sisi then placed pressure on Qatar – politically and through sanctions – in concert with other Arab nations, that forced Qatar into a reluctant 2014 agreement to deny overt refuge to the Muslim Brotherhood – which ultimately found sanctuary in Turkey. El-Sisi has kept up pressure to contain the Muslim Brotherhood within Turkish borders.
But Egypt has paid a price for this leadership. It has become a target and has suffered a series of terrorist attacks. And Qatar has not stopped its support of the Muslim Brotherhood – or Hamas.
Which is exactly what makes this written list of demands so important. Delivered by Kuwait on behalf of GCC leader Saudi Arabia – the list represents the first time the Saudis have been willing to formalize their demands. The Saudis are asking for no less than an end to Qatar’s standalone national status. They are demanding that Qatar – quite literally – give up its independent domestic foreign policy and submit to the leadership of the GCC.
The signal being sent to Qatar – and indirectly to Iran – is simple yet powerful. Saudi Arabia is now fully committed to combating terrorism. A very public stance which helps relieve some pressure from Egypt’s El-Sisi.
As I noted, the demands are onerous and almost breath-taking in their scope:
1. Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard from Qatar 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.
2. Sever all ties to “terrorist organizations,” specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh, Al Qaeda, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
3. Shut down Al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
4. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
5. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence currently in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside of Qatar.
6. Stop all means of terrorist funding – for any individuals, groups or organizations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the United States and other countries.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid. The document doesn’t specify what the countries will do if Qatar refuses to comply.
13. 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.
There may ultimately be some sort of middle ground. But it should be noted, these demands are similar to actions taken by Egypt’s El-Sisi after his ouster of then-president – and Muslim Brotherhood member – Mohamed Morsi. Actions that ultimately led to the end of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Unsurprisingly, Iran and Turkey have both expressed outrage over the demands issued to Qatar. Both nations understand the significance of the GCC’s hard-line stance.
This won’t be over in ten days. And no matter the outcome, a cultural change will be ongoing and take years to solidify. But these developments in the Middle East continue to be astonishing.
Developments that are not getting the national attention they deserve.
I will state it once again.
I have never been this optimistic regarding the future of the Middle East.
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