Two Saudi columnists and four Emirati sports journalists have resigned from their posts in Qatar following pressure from their governments and amid a worsening Gulf dispute.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Information on Saturday banned its nationals from writing for Qatari newspapers (AR) in a move evidently designed to increase pressure on Qatar to fall in line with its policies.
Last week, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain announced plans to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar, saying it had not complied with a GCC security pact, and thus threatened their stability.
The statement issued by the three Gulf nations also called on Qatar not to support “hostile media.”
The two Saudi columnists who resigned yesterday are Saleh Al Sheshi and Mohanna Al Hubail. Al Hubail tweeted yesterday:
تلقيت اتصال لمعالي نائب وزير الاعلام د عبد الله الجاسر أبلغني فيه بأسلوب محترم عن صدور قرار قيادي لوقف كتابتي في قطر #وقف_مقال_مهنا_الحبيل
— مهنا الحبيل (@MohannaAlhubail) March 8, 2014
(Translation: I received a phone call from His Excellency the [Saudi] vice-minister of Information Dr. Abdulla Al Jassar informing me nicely of an order to stop publishing in Qatar.)
However, Al Hubail also posted his thanks to Qatar for its respect and hospitality during his time in the country.
Concurrently, Qatar’s Al Arab newspaper sacked Saudi columnist Samar Al Mogren. On Twitter, she thanked the Saudi government for its decision to “protect the dignity of the Saudi writers.”
Meanwhile, responding to apparent pressure from the UAE government, four Emiratis working for the Qatari-owned BeIn Sports channel (formerly Al Jazeera Sports) have also resigned from their posts.
In a sign that leaving was not entirely voluntary, football commentator Emirati Ali Al Kaabi tweeted this note of goodbye yesterday:
عشر سنوات من العمل المهني الاحترافي الحقيقي ستبقى في قلبي للابد .. وداعا لكل الزملاء في بي إن سبورتس وكل الشكر للصديق الصدوق ناصر الخليفي .
— علي سعيد الكعبي (@AlkaabiAs) March 8, 2014
(Translation: Ten years of professional work career will remain in my heart forever… farewell to all my colleagues at BeIn Sports, and all thanks to my best friend (BeIn Sports director) Nasser Al Khulaifi.)
Football commentator Faris Awad and sports analysts Sultan Rashid and Hassan al-Jasmi were the other three Emiratis to resign.
The Muslim Brotherhood
The media shake-up is just the latest in a Gulf-wide divide that appears to stem from Qatar’s support for Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood organization.
Following last week’s diplomatic withdrawal, the Qatari government responded by saying the issue wasn’t about internal policies, but external ones.
While Saudi, Bahrain and the UAE favor the new military-backed government in Cairo, Qatar had previously supported ousted President Mohamed Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Over the weekend, that group was declared a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia. Two other groups Qatar has supported in the fight against President Bashar Al Assad in Syria were also designed “terrorists.”
Wayne White, a former US intelligence official who has worked in the GCC and is current an analyst at the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington, told the National that those designations are meant to serve as an additional snub to Qatar:
“It is no coincidence that every single designation that we see coming out today is the designation as a terrorist group of a group that the Qatari government has supported, whether it is the Brotherhood in Egypt.. or key groups inside Syria that Saudi Arabia had long ago pulled away from giving any support to, which was never as significant as Qatari support.”
Residents of the three countries that withdrew their envoys and citizens from Qatar have expressing mixed reactions to these latest developments, with some praising Saudi Arabia and UAE’s stance, as others mourn the loss of fraternity among the Gulf countries.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, Emirati blogger and Gulf affairs commentator Sultan Al Qassemi called the dispute “the biggest political crisis in the history of the Gulf Union.”
In Qatar, Khalid Al Sayed, editor-in-chief of the Peninsula, also raised the seriousness of what could happen if issues remain unresolved, asserting in an editorial today that the diplomatic strife could “take the region back to where it was 30 years ago:”
“The joint action by the three countries will affect political reforms in the GCC and take the region back to square one, and also damage the freedom of expression and human rights. Ultimately, it’s not about Qatar, Al Jazeera and Brotherhood. Much more is at stake.”
So far, there is only speculation about how the dispute will be resolved. But on the Qatar side, many are certain there will be no change in Doha’s foreign policy.
Reem Al Harmi, a Qatari columnist for Al Raya, told Doha News that Qatar’s foreign policy “can not please everyone.” But she’s not convinced the dispute will get worse either:
“Even if some GCC (countries) wants to escalate, they won’t get a consensus from Oman and Kuwait to do so.
“Having said that, all eyes (are) on Kuwait now to help remedy the situation, and I’m pretty sure Kuwait has been a good mediator, particularly in the GCC.”
That said, even if Kuwait does wade into to try to mediate, Sultan Al Qassemi points out that it is no clear what a solution might look like.
In an analysis piece for the Tahrir Institute for Middle East policy, he writes:
“Qatar has made a strategic decision that maintaining close ties with the Brotherhood is in its fundamental interests, and the other Gulf states have made a strategic decision that Qatar’s close ties with the Brotherhood represent a fundamental threat.
All that remains to be seen now is which side will blink first.”