Qatar defies US and sides with Turkey with $15bn investment pledge amid Lira crisis

Turkish President Erdogan meets with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim in Ankara. (Presidential Palace/Handout)
Updated 16 August 2018
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Qatar defies US and sides with Turkey with $15bn investment pledge amid Lira crisis

  • Emir's support for Erdogan comes amid trade, diplomatic spat with US
  • The Turkish currency has lost nearly 40 percent against the dollar this year

JEDDAH: Qatar defied US President Donald Trump on Wednesday and promised to plough $15 billion into Turkish financial markets and banks, amid a collapse in the value of the lira and a looming trade war between Turkey and the United States.

The bail-out followed talks in Ankara between the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

The lira has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year, driven by worries over Erdogan’s growing influence on the economy and his refusal to raise interest rates despite high inflation.

Last week the US doubled tariffs on aluminium and steel imports from Turkey, during a dispute over Turkey’s detention of an American pastor on security charges that the US views as baseless.

In response, Erdogan launched a boycott of US electrical products and sharply raised tariffs on other US imports.

Turkey and Qatar have become close economic and political partners. Doha has $20 billion worth of investments in Turkey, and Ankara is one of the top exporters to the emirate. Sheikh Tamim was the first foreign leader to call Erdogan after the aborted coup in Turkey in 2016, and Turkey — along with Iran — is one of the few countries to support Qatar against the boycott by the Saudi-led Anti-Terror Quartet over Doha’s financing of terrorism. 

Although Qatar has now pledged $15 billion it has not actually paid anything, and it may not be enough to solve Turkey’s economic problems.

Analysts also said the political cost of the investment remained to be seen, given that Qatar is also a US ally and dependent on Washington for both military and political protection.

“This is what happens when you choose to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, told Arab News. “The Americans have their base at Al-Udeid in Qatar so naturally they will expect Qatar to toe their line.

“Qatar has gravitated toward Turkey because of the Muslim Brotherhood link and the Iranian connection so now it finds itself in an unenviable situation. If they side with Turkey, they run the risk of antagonizing US President Donald Trump. If they back the American position on Turkey tariff penalties, then they lose Turkey.”

Al-Shehri said Ankara appeared to have blackmailed Qatar into supporting it. “They said they came to Qatar’s support during Doha’s row with its Arab neighbors, and now it was Qatar’s turn to pay back the favor.”


Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

Since protests began in December, Iranians have had their internet access disrupted and have lost access to the messaging app Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

  • The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government

GENEVA, LONDON: In early January, labor activist Esmail Bakhshi posted a letter on Instagram saying he had been tortured in jail, attracting support from tens of thousands of Iranians online.
Bakhshi, who said he was still in pain, also challenged the intelligence minister to a public debate about the religious justification for torture. Late last month, Bakhshi was rearrested.
Sepideh Qoliyan, a journalist covering labor issues in the Ahvaz region, was also rearrested on the same day after saying on social media that she had been abused in jail.
Bakhshi’s allegations of torture and the social media furor that followed led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call for an investigation, and the intelligence minister subsequently met with a parliamentary committee to discuss the case, a rare example of top officials being prompted to act by a public backlash online.
“Each sentence and description of torture from the mouths of #Sepideh_Qoliyan and #Esmail_Bakhshi should be remembered and not forgotten because they are now alone with the torturers and under pressure and defenseless. Let us not forget,” a user named Atish posted on Twitter in Farsi on Feb. 11.
“When thousands of people share it on social media, the pressure for accountability goes up,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Sham investigations won’t put it to rest. Social media is definitely becoming a major, major public square in Iran.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said last month, without naming Bakhshi, that allegations of torture online constitute a crime.
His comments follow growing pressure from officials to close Instagram, which has about 24 million users in Iran. Iran last year shut down the Telegram messaging app, which had about 40 million users in the country, citing security concerns.
“Today you see in cyberspace that with the posting of a film or lie or rumor the situation in the country can fall apart,” Dolatabadi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “You saw in recent days that they spread a rumor and announced the rape of an individual or claimed suicide and recently you even saw claims of torture and all the powers in the country get drawn in. Today cyberspace has been transformed into a very broad platform for committing crimes.”
The arrests of Bakhshi and Qoliyan are part of a crackdown in Ahvaz, center of Iran’s Arab population. Hundreds of activists there pushing for workers’ and minority rights, two of the most contentious issues in Iran, have been detained in recent weeks.
The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government.