Qatar in crisis as more countries sever ties

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The Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani attends the final session of the South American-Arab Countries summit, in Riyadh November 11, 2015. (REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo)
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Saudi King Salman (C) walks with the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, during a welcoming ceremony upon Hamad al-Thani's arrival to attend the Summit of South American-Arab Countries, in Riyadh November 10, 2015. (Reuters)
Updated 06 June 2017

Qatar in crisis as more countries sever ties

JEDDAH: Several Arab and Islamic countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday over Doha’s alleged support for extremist groups.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were the first to announce they would withdraw their diplomatic staff from Qatar and announced plans to cut air and sea traffic to the peninsular country.
In a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Saudi Arabia said Qatari troops would be pulled from the ongoing war in Yemen. Qatar is part of the Arab Coalition backing the UN-recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in its war with Iran-backed Houthis and their allies.
SPA said Saudi Arabia has taken this “crucial action as a result of serious violations by the authorities in Doha, privately and publicly, over the past years to encourage dissent and sectarianism in the Kingdom.”
Riyadh accused Qatar of “backing terrorist groups in the province of Qatif, Saudi Arabia, and in the Kingdom of Bahrain and the financing and the adoption of harboring extremists who seek to strike the stability and unity of the nation at home and abroad.”
It specifically mentioned Qatar’s alleged support of the Muslim Brotherhood and Daesh extremists.
Riyadh also accused Qatari media of trying to undermine the Saudi-led coalition in its fight against Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah "expressed his wish" that Qatari ruler "work on easing tensions and refrain from taking any decision that might cause escalation", the Kuwait state news agency Kuna said, as Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, an adviser to the Saudi king, arrived in Kuwait.

Bahrain blamed Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain” for its decision.
Egypt announced the closure of its airspace and seaports to all Qatari transportation to protect its national security, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.
Egypt accused Qatar of supporting "terrorist" organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's state news agency reported.
The United Arab Emirates accused its Gulf Arab neighbor of supporting extremism and undermining regional stability, state news agency WAM reported.
The Emirates cut ties and gave diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, citing their "support, funding and embrace of terrorist, extremist and sectarian organizations," WAM said.
Qatari officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Yemen's internationally recognised government, which also severed ties with Qatar, accused it of working with its enemies in the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, state news agency Saba reported.
"Qatar's practices of dealing with the (Houthi) coup militas and supporting extremist groups became clear," the government said in a statement.
Libya’s eastern-based government has followed regional allies in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, its foreign minister, Mohamed Dayri, said on Monday.
The Maldives also followed suit in severing diplomatic ties with Qatar. "The Maldives took the decision because of its firm opposition to activities that encourage terrorism and extremism," the government of the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago nation said in a statement.
Qatar denounces 'unjustified' move
Qatar on Monday criticised the decisions of three Gulf states to sever ties with it, saying they were “unjustified” and aimed to put Doha under political “guardianship.”
“The measures are unjustified and are based on false and baseless claims,” the Qatari foreign ministry said in a statement, referring to the unprecedented steps taken by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Crisis not to impact fight against terrorism
Speaking in Sydney, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he did not expect the announcement to have "any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified fight against terrorism."
He encouraged Qatar and its neighbours to "sit down together", adding that Washington was ready for "any role that we can play" in helping to overcome divisions.
Amid the rift, Iran blamed the regional crisis on the US President’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia.
Turkey calls for dialogue
Turkey called for dialogue and said it was ready to help defuse the row between Qatar and Arab nations that accuse Doha of supporting extremism.
“It’s a development that really saddened all of us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters. “There could be problems between the countries but dialogue must prevail in all circumstances,” he said.
Iran blames US
The head of Iran’s parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy Alaeddin Boroujerdi says Washington has always made it a policy to establish a rift among Muslim countries. He says: “Intervention of foreign countries, especially the United States, cannot be the solution to regional problems.”
Russia hopes for 'stability and peace'
Commenting on the decision by a number of Arab and Islamic nations, the Kremlin said on Monday that it is in Russia’s interest to have a “stable and peaceful” situation in the Gulf.
Crisis not to impact India
India’s Foreign Affairs Minister said that India will not be impacted by some Gulf countries cutting off diplomatic ties with Qatar.
“There is no challenge arising out of this for us. This is an internal matter of GCC (Gulf Coordination Council). Our only concern is about Indians there. We are trying to find out if any Indians are stuck there,” Sushma Swarai told reporters.
Qatar-bound flights halted
Meanwhile, several airlines have declared suspension of all Qatar-bound flights starting from Tuesday morning until further notice.
Saudi Arabian Airlines, locally known as Saudia, UAE carriers Emirates, Etihad, flydubai and Air Arabia all announced  they would suspend flights to Doha amid the diplomatic rift. Egypt later announced it will suspend air links with Qatar as well.
Qatar Airways, too, said on its official website that it had suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia.
The decision comes after Qatar alleged in late May that hackers took over the site of its state-run news agency and published what it called fake comments made by the ruling emir about Iran and Israel. Its Gulf Arab neighbors responded by blocking Qatari-based media, including the Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera.

– With input from AP and Reuters


‘Worst debate ever’ — US expats lament lack of substance in Trump-Biden bust-up

Updated 54 min 40 sec ago

‘Worst debate ever’ — US expats lament lack of substance in Trump-Biden bust-up

  • Americans in the Gulf shocked by crosstalk, insults, mockery and lack of focus on policies during candidates’ first televised showdown
  • Any attempt at substantive exchanges on the main issues — the Supreme Court, COVID-19, race and violence, the economy, and the integrity of the election — were drowned out by acrimony

DUBAI: Americans living in the Gulf looked on, aghast, as personal insults flew back and forth between the two men who aspire to lead the US.

A chaotic 90 minutes of insults, temper tantrums, endless interruptions and attacks on an opponent’s family turned the first televised debate between Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden into the most acrimonious televised presidential head-to-head in US history.

Expatriates in the Middle East set their alarms for the early hours to watch what turned out to be a “dumpster fire” of a debate, as some commentators described it, unfold in Cleveland, Ohio.

“This debate completely lacked in substance, so how could an expat understand anything about Biden (or Trump’s) positions,” said Liberty Jones, who is from Washington D.C. and has lived in Dubai for eight years. “Aside from a quick discussion on how Trump is handling COVID, it was devoid of any depth on their approaches.”

Opinion

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The debate was the first of three between the two candidates in the run up to election day on Nov. 3. Any attempt at substantive exchanges about the six main issues — the Supreme Court, COVID-19, race and violence in US cities, the economy, and the integrity of the election — were drowned out by acrimony.

“You’re the worst president that America ever had,” Biden told Trump. “In 47 months I’ve done more than you have done in 47 years,” Trump responded.

The moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, had to raise his voice on several occasions to demand that Trump respect the two-minute time allocated for uninterrupted answers to questions and let Biden speak. Biden also provided fuel for the fire with a series of personal attacks, calling Trump a liar and a racist.

Then there was Biden’s “inshallah” moment, which lit up Twitter across the Arab world. It came after Trump promised to release his still-hidden tax returns, some details of which were published by the New York Times last week. Biden sarcastically asked, “When?” followed by a word that many viewers thought sounded like “Inshallah,” meaning “God willing.”

Whether or not he actually uttered the familiar Arabic expression remains a mystery but it certainly caught the attention of American expats in the Gulf, some of whom feel distanced from the core issues of the election.

“As expats, we are naturally not as close to the candidates and their platforms,” said Jones, who is a public relations director for luxury retailer Tiffany & Co. “While we can consume news, we don’t have the benefit of our community and families sharing their perspectives on the candidates. This places greater weight on the debates to help expats understand the platforms and policies of the respective candidates.”

James Erazo Ruiz, a healthcare company director who lives in Abu Dhabi and describes himself as a Republican, said: “The American people are the losers of this debate.

“History tells us that presidential debates are not decision-making events. I hoped this one would be different but all we saw was name-calling and an insulting debacle that served no purpose.

“The debate was light on policy, issues and solutions. Quite frankly, it was the worse debate I have ever seen. It was a joke.”

Brian Raggott, who has worked in Dubai for nine years for an American IT company, said the debate reinforced the negative image of America outside of the US.

“America needs someone who can bring the country back together again and last night we didn’t see it,” he said. “As an American outside of the US, you want to bring American ideals wherever you go — and right now it’s a tough time.”

Ali Khalaf, who has lived in Dubai since 2007, sounded a slightly more optimistic note for the future of American politics. He said that he hopes the “disturbing” nature of the debate will shock more people into greater engagement with the political process.

“The hope that can be drawn from these debates is that we emerge from these elections with the desire to invest more in our nation’s choices,” he added.

The last topic of the debate, the integrity of the election, in particular struck a chord with Americans in the Gulf, many of whom said that despite submitting a request weeks ago they are still waiting to receive their absentee ballots.

Approximately 9 million Americans live overseas, according to 2016 figures from the US State Department. If they were considered to be a US state, it would rank as the 12th largest in population size, so they represent a powerful block of votes.

An anonymous US citizen living in Dubai, who declined to be named, said: “Americans abroad deserve to feel confident that our votes are accurately counted and protected from fraud. It’s strange to wait this long for a ballot — and then when it comes and we mail it in, can we trust that it will be counted appropriately?”

“Our votes absolutely count,” said Jean Candiotte, a creative director, writer and producer who has lived in Dubai for almost seven years. “This has the potential to be a close election, which means that every single vote is important.

“As Americans, we get to take our home country with us when we live overseas; we file and pay our home country’s taxes and we maintain the right to vote, and it’s important to exercise that right — it’s who we are as a nation.”