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Riyadh Summit

Qatar has formally been invited to attend this year’s Arab League summit, set to be held in Riyadh on April 15. Saudi Arabia had earlier postponed the summit to April, saying the original date in late March clashed with Egypt’s presidential election. According to Lulwa al-Khater, a spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry, Qatar will take part but has yet to decide on the level of participation.

Maybe, just maybe, the upcoming summit could lead to the thawing of the bitter relationship between Qatar and the Arab bloc, although going by the attitude of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, who categorically pointed out earlier in March that he would not tolerate outside mediation in the resolution to the Gulf crisis, the possibilities are remote.

But going by the historical role the League has played, there may be some hope of at least a start of reconciliation.

After all, the League’s prime objective is to draw closer the relations between member States and co-ordinate collaboration between them, to safeguard their independence and sovereignty, and to consider in a general way the affairs and interests of the Arab countries. It facilitates political, economic, cultural, scientific, and social programmes designed to promote the interests of the Arab world.

In the past, it has served as a forum for the member states to coordinate their policy positions, to deliberate on matters of common concern, to settle some Arab disputes and to limit conflicts such as the 1958 Lebanon crisis.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates imposed a sea, land and air blockade on Qatar on June 5, 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism and destabilising the region. Doha has consistently denied these charges.

Starting with only six members in 1945, the Arab League now has 22 members. Qatar joined in 1971. One of the significant agendas will be to seek to prevent Israel from gaining a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council in 2019.

 

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Doha Stadium Plus Qatar/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Condemning what it described as a “hateful campaign” against Qatar’s right to host the World Cup in 2022, the Arab League has joined other regional bodies in backing the Gulf country’s bid, amid ongoing controversy at FIFA.

In a statement issued by the general assembly yesterday, the organization of 22 Arab states became the latest group to offer its “full support” to Qatar.

Flag of Arab League in Amman, Jordan

Wikimedia Commons

Flag of Arab League in Amman, Jordan

In addition to fielding criticism of its human rights record, the country has been fending off allegations of corruption related to the tournament bid.

Last month, authorities in the US and Switzerland said that Qatar and Russia are both being investigated as part of an extensive probe into the legality of their bidding for the World Cups in 2018 and 2022.

Taking issue with the accusations, the Cairo-based Arab League said, as quoted by AFP:

“The Arab League endorses the resolution issued by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) condemning the hateful campaign that attempts to question Qatar’s right to host the 2022 World Cup.”

Last week, the OIC, an organization of Muslim nations, said it stood behind Qatar and criticized “Western media tendentious campaigns” against the Gulf state, Reuters reported.

“The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) stresses its support to the State of Qatar and to all that would ensure its success in hosting the World Cup, as well as to its efforts towards optimal preparations for the event.

It applauds the level of progress reached in the preparations and welcomes Qatar’s continued preparations to host the 2022 World Cup,” the statement said.

Representing 57 countries with a total population of 1.5 billion people, the OIC is the world’s second-largest intergovernmental organization after the UN.

The organization added that it supported Qatar’s position as the first Arab country to host such a global sporting tournament, QNA said.

Media scrutiny

Qatar has been the focus of a number of articles in international media in recent years that have called into question its bidding process for the World Cup.

Last month, it came under the spotlight again after US prosecutors indicted 14 senior administrators and business figures, including FIFA officials, over alleged bribery and corruption in the sport. Swiss officials said they were also opening investigations.

Qatar has maintained it fought a clean campaign and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Qatar foreign minister Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah

Ministerie van Buitenlands

Qatar foreign minister Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah

Earlier this month, the state’s Foreign Minister Dr. Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah and the former Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani both asserted in separate media interviews that they believed Qatar was at the center of a “racist” campaign.

In addition to allegations of corruption, Qatar has also been criticized by international human rights groups about the treatment of construction workers here and scrutinized for its sponsorship/kafala system.

In a bid to counter critics, GCC Information Ministers issued a directive earlier this month calling on all journalists in the region to show their “full solidarity” to Qatar by publishing stories that support the country’s right to host the international football tournament.

While this was criticized by advocates of media freedom as an attempt to control the tone of coverage by governments, others supported the stand as a necessary move to balance the international news narrative and bolster the country’s reputation.

Thoughts?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Hawkes77/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

With reporting from Heba Fahmy

Diplomatic tensions have again flared up between Qatar and Egypt, this time over escalating violence in Libya.

Early this morning, Qatar announced through its state news agency that it was recalling its ambassador to Cairo “for consultations” over an inflammatory statement made by Egypt’s delegate to the Arab League.

Such moves are generally used to publicly display diplomatic disapproval between countries.

The charge came after Qatar expressed reservations about a clause in a joint Arab League communique that welcomed Egypt’s recent air strikes on ISIL targets in Libya.

Qatar News Agency’s statement did not repeat the offending comments.

But according to Egypt’s state television network, Egyptian Arab League delegate Tariq Adel said that Qatar’s hesitation was about ”Egypt’s legitimate right to defend itself,” and revealed Doha’s “supportive stance of terrorism.”

He said he wasn’t surprised at the position taken by Qatar, which is ”constantly taking stances opposing Egypt,’’ adding that Doha’s position deviated from the “Arab consensus.”

Air strikes

Earlier this week, ISIL released a video depicting the execution of 21 Egyptian Christians who had been kidnapped in Libya. In response, Egypt launched air raids on militant camps, training sites and weapons storage areas in the neighboring country.

While Cairo lauded the operation as a success, footage aired by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera showed evidence that civilians were injured in Egypt’s air raids:

In a statement released early this morning, Qatar ambassador Saad bin Ali Al Mohannadi, director of the country’s Arab affairs department, said that there should be consultations between Arab League members before one country launches unilateral military action that could result in civilian casualties in another member state.

He also condemned the killing of the Egyptians at the hands of ISIL, but added that:

“Qatar should not be mentioned as a reason for any failure by the Egyptian government. The State of Qatar denounces such a tense statement, which confuses the need to combat terrorism and the brutal killing and burning of civilians.”

Two steps back

The latest diplomatic rift comes at a time when strained relations between Qatar and Egypt had appeared to be improving.

Qatar and Egypt flag

GulfShipNews

Qatar and Egypt flag

The two countries had been at odds following the 2013 ouster of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

Qatar has supported Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood political party, which Egypt subsequently declared a terrorist organization.

Relations continued to fray after Qatar condemned Cairo’s crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

Meanwhile, Egypt demanded that the Gulf country extradite prominent Islamic cleric Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, who is an Egyptian-born naturalized Qatari citizen who has repeatedly denounced the military-backed Egyptian government.

But in recent months, there had been signs that tensions between the two countries were dissipating.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with a special envoy representing Qatar’s Emir in December, which was followed by an announcement that Doha-based Al Jazeera Media Network – which some had accused of carrying a pro-Muslim Brotherhood editorial bias – would suspend its Egypt-focused channel, Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr.

A file photo of the three Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt.

Amy Feldtmann/Twitter

A file photo of the three Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt.

Additionally, Egypt released from prison two Al Jazeera journalists out on bail and freed another outright after the trio spent more than a year in custody on disputed charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

The moves came amid a Saudi-brokered effort the mend relations between the two countries led by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who died last month. His passing raised questions in the Egyptian media over whether reconciliation efforts would continue.

Qatar and Egypt had previously found themselves supporting opposing camps in Libya. Over the summer, military planes from Egypt and the UAE bombed fighters in Tripoli that were believed to be part of a faction that received arms and financial support from Qatar.

Thoughts?