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Qatar: Architect of its own isolation

This is one of the saddest days since the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was formed. I never imagined that a brotherly country, a neighbor with which we in the UAE share ties of blood, would act against us behind the curtain by supporting terrorist groups that threaten us, all while getting cosy with our adversary Iran.

Doha’s loyalty to its GCC allies has long been questioned. The fact that it has been sheltering Muslim Brotherhood criminals in five-star hotels, and has close ties with Hamas, the Afghan Taliban and other terrorist groups, is an open secret.

The motives behind Doha’s ill treatment of its closest friends are unclear. I can but speculate that the emir was hand-in-glove with former US President Barack Obama, who was set on bolstering Iran’s influence while cutting that of Gulf states down to size. Qatar’s leadership is known for talking out of both sides of its mouth, saying one thing and doing the opposite. Its smiles and warm diplomatic messages were fake, designed to hide its double-dealings.

Doha’s friendly posture toward Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain has been exposed as a charade, which cannot be tolerated. These three countries do not seek confrontation; their leaders are patient but also just, firm and strong when the safety of their people is at stake. We cannot forever blind our eyes and close our ears to the truth staring us in the face.

Qataris are good people, some of the finest I know. They share our culture and traditions. I do not believe they condone the behavior of their ruler. They have been quietly oppressed, and are afraid to air their true opinions.

We do not wish to harm them in any way, and we look forward to a time when we can break bread with them again. I appeal to my Qatari brothers and sisters not to take the Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini severing of diplomatic ties with Doha personally. We have been left with no choice.

Egypt, Libya, Yemen, the Maldives and Mauritius back our stance. Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Manama and Cairo have closed air, sea and land transport links to Qatar “for the protection of national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism,” an official Saudi source was quoted as saying. We anticipate that Jordan, Morocco and Sudan will announce similar measures. We hope and trust that Kuwait and Oman will also do what is right.

I expect that certain Western nations will join the boycott, though I am disappointed with the quick-fire US response. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is urging reconciliation, and says the US has no plans to relocate its Central Command operations from Qatar.

Qatar’s isolation will deplete its coffers. We are already witnessing negative effects on its stock market and airlines. Unfortunately, Qataris will not be immune from inconvenience. I sincerely hope our separation will be short and what is happening is just a temporary family fallout. Qatar has always been part of our Gulf family and should remain so.

Too much bad water has gone under the bridge. There is no turning back unless Qatar can find a way to redeem itself. The regime of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and his son Tamim cannot be trusted. Its promises are worthless.

Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

On a positive note, the beneficiaries of Doha’s terrorist funding — Hezbollah, pro-Iran Yemeni Houthis, Hamas, Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Brotherhood, Daesh, Al-Qaeda and others — will suffer a loss of liquidity.

Too much bad water has gone under the bridge. There is no turning back unless Qatar can find a way to redeem itself. The regime of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and his son Tamim cannot be trusted. Its promises are worthless. 

Sheikh Hamad’s family has steered the country in the wrong direction and used its vast wealth for nefarious purposes. I believe Qataris are waking up to that indisputable reality. I am not in the business of telling the people of other nations how to react to their own governments; that is for them to decide. I pray they make wise choices.

But if Qatar’s emir cares about the future of his country and people, he would do well to consider stepping down and going into exile along with his close family members and loyalists. He would be offered sanctuary by numerous states that would welcome a mega-injection of funds. 

There are honest people within the Al-Thani family capable of bringing Qatar back to the straight and narrow. Sheikh Saud bin Nasser Al-Thani is one. He slammed Tamim in a tweet, writing: “We hoped that foreign policy would change, and our hopes were disappointed after you joined forces with Iran against your brothers and set up terrorist groups and published electronic battalions to beat your opponents.”

There are branches of the extensive Al-Thani family made up of true Gulf Arabs who genuinely love their neighbors’ soil as much as their own, and want to play a role in bettering the Arab world, not injecting it with divisiveness. They should step up and make their voices heard so the Qatari people can coalesce behind them. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies would be only too happy to welcome Qatar back to the fold.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry has described the measures taken as “unjustified” and “based on claims and allegations with no basis in fact.” That statement whistles to the wind. There is a growing mountain of evidence that refutes such denials.

I look forward to the recalibration of Qatar’s foreign policy in accordance with that of all GCC member states, so we can have the confidence to mend relations with Doha in good faith. How that is achieved rests on Qatari shoulders, but meanwhile the UAE and its Arab allies must do what they have to in order to protect their own people.

Once all countries around the Arabian Gulf are on the same page when it comes to battling the terrorist scourge and pushing back Iran’s expansionism, they will be the safest and most stable on the planet. Come back to us Qatar. Come back to us as a loyal partner. Let us trust in God to bring us together in love and friendship before the rift becomes too wide to swiftly traverse.

• Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.