Neither reasonable nor actionable

 27 Jun 2017 - 11:59

At last after prolonged reluctance that created a lot of mystery and confusion in diplomatic circles around the world, the Saudi-led alliance has come up with a 13-point list of demands to end the ongoing Gulf crisis. From the boycotting countries side, apparently, it is a well-pondered move but for the rest of world the list of demands is nothing but a source of shock, surprise and an extension of diplomatic nonsense.

Knowingly or unknowingly the architects of the list of demands have given birth to an absurdity allowing people across the region in particular, and global audience in general, to poke fun on their handiwork. One Twitter user wrote that he was sure that the demand related to compensation money was from the Egyptian side.

Four Arab countries have called on Qatar to shut down Al Jazeera, terminate Turkish military presence in Qatar, curb relations with Iran and take 10 more such steep steps. The list of demands has been termed “neither reasonable nor actionable” by Qatar. The world stands with Qatar terming the demands “unrealistic” while people are blatantly calling them “absurd” and “ridiculous”.

As soon as the list of demands turned into headlines of the mainstream media, a new hashtag #WeDemandQatar surfaced on Twitter and the new trend occupied top position on social media platform in and around Qatar.

Avid users of Twitter mocked the list of demands by presenting their own demands like #WeDemandQatar “to stop interfering in Disney world, do the hokey pokey without putting their left leg in, stop winter from coming, provide a constant free-flowing supply of chai karak to all neighbouring countries, make a bald guy grow hair, kill someone who has just committed suicide, move from Middle East and settle down in Europe, walk on water, take the demands seriously, increase iPhone battery capacity” etc.

Another shocking demand is asking Qatar to pay reparations for “damages and loss of life caused by Qatar’s policies.” The document says that this sum will be determined in conjunction with Qatar.  And then a 10-day ultimatum to accept demands is something more than nonsensical and undiplomatic in nature.

These countries first laid siege against Qatar, fully utilised their propaganda machines to malign Qatar with baseless allegations of “supporting terror organisations”, used foul language (especially UAE officials) against Qatar and its leadership and now these “ultimatums”.

Even former US President Roosevelt, the founder of “big stick diplomacy” used to believe in ‘speaking softly’ and he in fact had a big stick to frighten his opponents due to his country’s gigantic military machine. But, these four Arab states are deprived of both “big stick” and polite talk.   

A Qatari tweeted: “The list is rejected from the people before it is dismissed by the government.”  Another Twitter user observed: “In case these demands are justified, there left nothing except ordering Qatari people (from boycotting countries) to divorce their spouses.”

Sticking to country’s principled stance, Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al Thani, director of the Qatar government’s communications office has said: “This list of demands confirms what Qatar has said from the beginning — the illegal blockade has nothing to do with combating terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has welcomed Qatar’s stand on the list of demands, saying that the ultimatum is “against international law”.  “We welcome [Qatar’s position] because we consider the 13-point list is against international law,” Erdogan was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency Anadolu.

The recent plan of deployment of more Turkish troops in Qatar has been passed by Turkish parliament after imposition of blockade on Qatar by three Gulf countries. But, the agreement for the establishment of the Doha Base was signed by Turkey and Qatar back in 2014. Why did not these four Arab states object over it in the last three years?  

Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary has also said that the terms for dialogue between the three Gulf countries and Qatar should be “measured and realistic” while US secretary of state, Tillerson has noted that some demands are “too difficult to meet”.

A long tale of diplomatic blunders:  four Arab countries are also seeking Qatar’s consent to “regular audits after demands are agreed upon”.

They have suggested that these audits will occur monthly for the first year after the demands are agreed to. “An audit would be held once per quarter in the second year, and then yearly audits would continue for ten years following an agreement.” The efforts of neighbouring countries to make Qatar a client or satellite state will meet one fate; the fate of ending in fiasco.

Three Gulf states have strong objections over Qatar-Iran relations but when it comes to UAE-Iran relations, they have different standards to apply.

In July 2015 when world powers were striking a nuclear deal with Iran, UAE’s Khaleej Times wrote: “The historic deal between world powers and Iran on Tuesday on limiting Iranian nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions will have far-reaching positive implications for the export and re-export activities of the UAE, the traditional trading partner of the sanctions-hit country.”

“The UAE, the fourth-largest trading partner of the embattled country (Iran), recorded a surge in trade exchange with Iran to $17 billion (Dh62.42 billion) last year (2014) but remains lower than the record $23 billion set in 2011 before sanctions began to bite.”

When sanctions on Iran were lifted in January 2016, Gulf News wrote: “Despite the current diplomatic tensions between Iran and the GCC, the GCC countries in general and the UAE in particular is expected to benefit immensely from a sanctions-free Iran. Analysts expect a number of non-oil sectors to benefit, including transportation and logistics, banking, tourism and trade, which should benefit particularly from any strengthening in Iranian demand.”

The boycotting countries are afraid of “voice of voiceless” while Qatar has made it clear in categorical terms at numerous occasions that Al Jazeera will be off table in any negotiations to settle the Gulf rift.

Al Jazeera Network has termed the demand “nothing but an attempt to silence the freedom of expression in the region and to suppress people’s right to information and the right to be heard.”

IFJ President Philippe Leruth has stated: “Al Jazeera is a source of information for citizens in the Middle East and beyond. The restriction of freedom of speech and media pluralism in the region risks worsening the crisis, instead of solving it.”

The countries demanding closure of an independent and vibrant media outlet should remember golden words of US jurist and politician George Sutherland: “A free press stands as one of the great interpreters between the government and the people. To allow it to be fettered is to fetter ourselves.”

Confusion is pronounced: “Who is a terrorist in eyes of Saudi Arabia; the man (Morsi) who was duly elected by a democratic process in Egypt or Al Sisi, the dictator, who staged a coup against people’s elected government and killed hundreds of people in the process?” was the question posed to Saudi ambassador in Pakistan by a journalist during an Iftar dinner few days ago. In response, the Saudi diplomat, after a great reluctance, answered: “How can we interfere in internal affairs of any country.”

The Saudi-led alliance is asking Qatar to sever ties with Muslim Brotherhood but these countries have so far not arrived at any unanimous definition of terror or terror organisation.  

Without presenting any substantial proof in support of their allegations levelled against Qatar, four Arab countries have employed all propaganda techniques white, black and grey to tarnish Qatar’s image in world community but to no avail.

Using the phrase coined by E. B. White in 1928 for the Carl Rose’s cartoon published in The New Yorker, I will end here saying, I say it’s  spinach ….

The writer is a Doha-based journalist.