With the failure of foreign visits and mediation, the Qatar crisis is far from being resolved as the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ) — comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — stick to its demands. The crisis will be prolonged because it is an old one — there have been complaints about Doha for almost 20 years. Despite this, the ATQ statement issued in early June represents a new development and the most serious confrontation yet.
This was clearly expressed by cutting diplomatic and consular ties, and prohibiting transit and traffic. Since then, the confrontation has escalated, not least because of the speech by Qatar’s emir a few days ago. As such, the crisis will probably last for months, if not until next year.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia are used to offenses and hostile media campaigns. But Qatar is an affluent state that has been attacked only once by extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda, in the 1990s. It does not have a high population density or religious and cultural diversity threatening its stability, unlike Bahrain. Qatar has two US military bases protecting it.
Qatar has two images: A real, negative one, and a fake media one that depicts it as a modern, positive, young and moderate state enjoying freedom and independence from foreign pressures. Few people are aware that the latter image is fake, or at least exaggerated. Doha is the damaged party because the others are used to media distortion and targeting. For the first time, Qatar’s name is attached to terrorism and extremism.
No matter how much Doha tries to recruit more public relations firms in Washington to repair its image, it will fail because the damage has already been done.
No matter how much Doha tries to recruit more public relations firms in Washington to repair its image, it will fail because the damage has already been done and the ATQ is still able to deliver its message. Qatari media efforts mainly focus on repeated messages that governments are used to.
In the Arab world, Qatar’s propaganda machine relies on outdated means such as exploitation of the Palestinian cause and linking it to the crisis. This approach has failed. The machine has also tried to convince Arabs that their governments are biased and false.
But Qatar has found little sympathy because the ATQ has disrupted and silenced groups and individuals hired by Doha. It is not a matter of freedom of speech, but of standing against lobbies and public relations firms illegally recruited by a foreign government.
Doha is under political pressure because the ATQ and most of the region can no longer bear its attitude and the damage it has caused. Most of the region’s governments believe that Qatar is jeopardizing their stability, so responding by targeting it is legitimate and necessary. It is playing a dangerous game and faces a choice: Abandon its policies or risk its very existence.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.