Qatari exiles in UK make plea for end to ‘suffering’

The London conference was organized by Khalid Al-Hail, spokesman for Qatar National Democratic Party.
Updated 14 September 2017

Qatari exiles in UK make plea for end to ‘suffering’

LONDON: Qatari exiles gathered at a conference in the UK on Thursday called for international assistance to end their “suffering,” a day after it emerged that Doha had stripped 55 nationals of citizenship.
The opposition event was held in London amid high security, with some speaking about their plight publicly for the first time.
In a panel discussion chaired by the veteran BBC journalist John Simpson, one Qatari exile described how he had been stripped of his citizenship.
Mohammed Al-Murri made a plea for Saudi Arabia and the UK to help. He asked the UK, with its history of democracy, to address the human rights issues in Qatar in order to “put an end to our suffering,” he told the conference.
“All of us were deprived of our passports … It is impossible for us to accept this,” he said.
It emerged earlier this week that Qatar has stripped 55 members of the Al-Murrah tribe of their citizenship, including its head Sheikh Taleb, in a move slammed as “collective punishment” by human rights groups. It follows a previous move by Doha to force 6,000 tribal members to flee the country, according to reports.
Al-Murri claimed to be related to Sheikh Taleb, although this could not immediately be independently verified. “Unfortunately the Qataris took away the nationality from the … tribe,” he told the conference in London. “Even though we are Qataris through and through, we are suffering.”
Al-Murri said his father had been imprisoned in Qatar, while he had not been able to see his mother before she died. “My father was tortured,” he said. “My mother suffered from cancer until she died, but we could not visit her … We have been suffering for decades now and we would like to see a solution.”
Al-Murri was addressing the “Qatar, Global Security & Stability Conference,” which was held amid the diplomatic row between Qatar and the Anti-Terror Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.
Opposition member Khalid Al-Hail, spokesman for the Qatar National Democratic Party and organizer of the conference, reiterated claims that Qatar supports terror groups. Doha denies the charges. “I represent the voice that is not being listened to by the world … The voice of the Qatari people,” he said.
Al-Hail said that Qatar supports terror groups like Al-Nusra Front — which is now known as Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham — along with Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Qatar is harboring fugitives and extremists,” he claimed. Al-Hail also pointed to Qatar’s alleged ties with Tehran, something he believes is at odds with the interests of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). “We had problems because Iranians always had their eye on Qatar… You cannot be a friend of Iran and claim to be a friend of the GCC,” he said.
“Most of the illicit trade that finds its way into Qatari markets come through Iran.”
The conference also heard from Thomas Mace Archer-Mills, a constitutional expert, who said Doha’s claims that the country is a constitutional monarchy amounts to “whitewashing.”
Qatar’s funding of the Al Jazeera media network was also raised at the London conference, with former employee Mohammed Fahmy taking aim at the channel’s editorial line.
Fahmy worked in Cairo for Al Jazeera English, but was arrested and spent time in prison on charges that after allegations, he and colleagues filed reports that were damaging to Egypt’s national security.
After his release Fahmy initiated legal proceedings against Al Jazeera; he told the London conference that the network did not reflect the concerns of Qatari citizens.
“They say ‘we are the voice of the voiceless.’ Where is the voice of the Qataris? Where is the voice of the Qatari opposition?,” he said. “That is the problem with Al Jazeera.”
The conference in London was held amid tight security, with police, sniffer dogs and private security guards patrolling the site.
Organizer Al-Hail said attempts had been made to prevent the event from going ahead, and that he has fears about his personal safety due to his opposition activities.
“I fear for my life. I have a very big genuine fear of persecution from Qatar. I know what these guys are doing, and they have lots of bad history,” he told Arab News in an interview earlier this week.

Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

Updated 22 October 2018

Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

  • The event will focus on ‘harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict’
  • Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend a critical four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul next Saturday. 

They will discuss recent developments in the war-torn country as well as projections for a political settlement.

Experts have underlined the importance of this summit in providing a strong push for key EU countries to work together with regional players to end the years-long conflict in Syria as it will gather the four countries’ leaders at the highest level.

The summit will focus on the recent developments in the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, and the parameters of a possible political settlement.

The ways for preventing a new refugee inflow from Idlib into Europe via Turkey, which is home to about 3.5 million Syrian residents, following a possible offensive by the Assad regime will also be raised as a topic that mainly concerns France and Germany and pushes them to work more closely with Turkey and Russia.

The summit will also aim at “harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced on Friday.

Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province. Although the withdrawal of some opposition groups from the zone has not been accomplished in due time, Ankara and Moscow have agreed to extend the deadline for Idlib, which is still a strategic area where the opposition holds out.

“Turkey and Russia want the status quo for Idlib. Although the jihadists have not withdrawn from the demilitarized zone, Russia is turning a blind eye,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon II.

“Turkey will make some efforts to save face. Turkish proxies have withdrawn because Turkey pays wages, so they must obey, but for the jihadists it is more complicated,” he told Arab News.

According to Balanche, without the complicity of Turkey, the Syrian regime cannot take over the north of the country.

“In exchange, Turkey wants a buffer zone in the north, all along its border. The main objective is, of course, to eliminate the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the border as it has already done in Afrin. A secondary objective is to protect its opposition allies and the Turkmen minorities, many in the province of Idlib but also between Azaz and Jarablus,” he said.

But the summit also shows that these four countries need each other in the Syrian theater as each of them has stakes regarding the settlement of the crisis.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the main goal of the summit is to provide a major diplomatic boost to the ongoing Astana and Sochi peace processes, which have so far been led mainly by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“A second and maybe even more important goal is to include France and Germany in the reconstruction efforts in Syria once the civil war is over,” he told Arab News.

Considering the cost of the reconstruction, estimated at about $400 billion, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are not ready to take this enormous financial burden without the financial support of the West, Ersen said.

“Both Paris and Berlin hope that Ankara’s ongoing efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib can be successful. If the settlement in Idlib does not work, everybody is aware that this may lead to a big refugee crisis for both Turkey and Europe once again,” he added.

Martina Fietz, deputy spokeswoman for the German government, told a news conference in Berlin that her country is also hopeful about the forthcoming summit’s potential contribution to the stabilization of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

“Progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission, will be discussed,” she said.

The chief foreign policy advisers of the quartet have met in Istanbul in recent weeks to discuss the agenda of the summit.