A top United Arab Emirates official said Saturday the Arab countries isolating Qatar do not seek to force out the country’s leadership over allegations it supports extremist ideology but are willing to cut ties altogether if it does not agree to their demands.
Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told reporters in Dubai that his country and its allies do not want “regime change” in Qatar, but a “behavioural change.”
He described the six-member, Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council that includes his country and Qatar as being in a state of crisis as a result of the standoff, and he referred to Qatar as a “Trojan horse” within the once close-knit group of Arab monarchies that would be isolated for the long term if it does not capitulate.
“The alternative is not escalation. The alternative is parting of ways,” he said. “It’s very difficult for us to maintain a collective grouping with one of the partners … actively promoting what is an extremist and terrorist agenda.”
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain presented a 13-point list of demands to Qatar on Thursday and gave it 10 days to take action. They have signalled that if Qatar refuses to comply by the deadline, they will continue to restrict its access to land, sea and air routes indefinitely amid mounting economic pressure on the Persian Gulf nation.
Qatar says it is reviewing the ultimatum, which includes demands to shut Al-Jazeera and cut ties with Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood. But it has also said it won’t negotiate while under siege.
The countries have previously suggested the demands were their bottom line, though Gargash on Saturday appeared to allow for the possibility for some negotiation facilitated by Kuwait, a GCC member mediating the crisis.
“It is understood that any mediator — that’s his job. The job is to take your … position and to look at the position of the other party and to try and reach something that is doable,” Gargash said.
Qatar has long denied that it supports extremist groups and funds terrorism. But it acknowledges that it allows members of some groups such as Hamas to live in Qatar, arguing that fostering dialogue is key to resolving global conflicts. The Al-Jazeera network it hosts has provided exposure for groups ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaida, and is seen by its critics as a mouthpiece for extremist ideology.
The demands from Qatar’s neighbours amount to a call for a sweeping overhaul of Qatar’s foreign policy and natural gas-funded influence peddling in the region. Complying would bring Qatar’s policies in line with the regional vision of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s biggest economy and gatekeeper of Qatar’s only land border.
“This list of demands confirms what Qatar has said from the beginning — the illegal blockade has nothing to do with combatting terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy,” Sheikh Saif Al-Thani, a Qatari ruling family member who heads the country’s government communications office, said in a statement earlier Saturday.
The United Arab Emirates has said the list was intended to be confidential, and it has accused Qatar of leaking it to the press in a sign of bad faith.
Qatar’s neighbours are also demanding that it:
- Curb diplomatic ties with Iran, and limit trade and commerce.
- Stop funding other news outlets, including Arabi21, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
- Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from the four countries.
- Stop all means of funding for groups or people designated by foreign countries as terrorists.
- Pay an unspecified sum in reparations.
- Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain.