Foreign Minister : Any Threat to Region Is Threat to Qatar

Qatar’s Minister of Foreign Affairs HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani has underlined that Qatar has never undermined the collective security of the region, as we believe that any threat to the region is a threat to Qatar, he said.

Qatar continues to call for dialogue, despite the violations of international laws and regulations, despite the separation of 12 thousand families, despite the siege that is a clear aggression and an insult to all international treaties, bodies and jurisdiction, HE the Foreign Minister noted.

HE the Minister said that officials from the blockading countries were not merely criticizing Qatars policies – something we have always welcomed but they were calling for a regime change in Qatar, a coup, and inciting hate and violence.

In a speech he delivered at the British Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, HE the Minister said that officials from the besieged countries were not only criticizing Qatar’s policies but also demand a change of regime in Qatar, by a coup, inciting hatred and violence.

HE the Minister said : Im sure most of you are following the latest developments, and know that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have imposed a political, economic and social blockade against our country.

Some of the audience here who follow Arabic media outlets would have noticed the double narrative that the blockading countries have been using; one for Western audiences, and one for their own people, he noted.

HE the Foreign Minister added that the one for their own people comes as they failed to justify their unjust measures against a neighboring country in the holy month of Ramadan. As you know sympathy with Qatar is now criminalized in some of these countries; an indicator of how unpopular this escalation has been in the countries that caused it, HE the Minister noted.

HE the Minister said : What distinguishes Qatar in the region is not its wealth nor its natural resources, nor is it in its high rise buildings. It is the fact that development is at the core of both its domestic and foreign policy.

Today, Qatar has a distinct economic situation and the highest level of transparency and most importantly, the highest level of security and stability in the Middle East and North Africa region. Qatar ranks first in the world in most efficient government, according to the world economic forum. Regionally, Qatar ranks first in countering administrative corruption and the adoption of judicial procedures to protect the rule of law. In regards to human potential, Qatar also ranks first, HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said.

He added that this development emanates from the principles of good governance, as Qatar ranks first in the world in terms of confidence in political decision making and second in the level of efficiency of the legislative system.

Qatari women have been partners in this development, with their participation in the labor force and access to education reaching unprecedented heights. Qatar today is home to the highest proportion of employed women in the GCC and women outnumber men in university education, HE the Minister said.

HE the Foreign Minister further said that this development was witnessed also through freedom of worship in Qatar, with donations from HH the Father Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al -Thani towards the construction of the largest church in the GCC. For more than 20 years, Qatar has advanced inter-faith dialogue, as Doha has been a platform for dialogue for religious leaders and political factions alike.

Qatar has continued to encourage various political viewpoints to engage in constructive discussion in Doha, providing a platform otherwise absent in the region, he added.

HE the Minister noted that media broadcasters hosted by Qatar have completely transformed the Arab world, with the Al Jazeera network giving air time, without prejudice, to social and cultural topics, as well as political movements whether leftist, liberal or Islamist which were otherwise stifled across the region.

“The need for a free, non-partisan media which addressed the concerns of Arab citizens was badly felt, and Qatar’s willingness to host an institution such as Al Jazeera undoubtedly endeared the country to the wider Arab public,” HE the Foreign Minister said.

His Excellency added that Qatar’s media policies were warmly received by the Arab publics as well as in the United States and in Europe.

“In contrast, they created resentment among the forces which had previously been able to control the flow of information throughout the Middle East. This resentment intensified following the popular revolutions known as the “Arab Spring” of 2011. Arab regimes, surprised by the scale of popular protest, chose to avoid accountability by blaming the media.

“For the first time in the Middle East and North Africa region, Qatar hosted televised debates known as BBC’s “Doha Debates” where no government, official body or broadcaster has any control over what is said at the sessions or who is invited, he said, pointing out that this created a forum for dialogue that challenged the status quo, again, something unprecedented in the region.

“Today, Qatar has one of the most highly educated population in the region, the highest per capita GDP in the world; a thriving, diversified economy; some of the finest educational institutions in the Middle East, if not the world – and, of course, a World Cup to look forward to in 2022.

“Above all, and unlike many states in the Middle East, Qatar was not built on oppression, fear, and censorship. And through it all, we have continued to chart our own course, and take an independent view on global and regional events.”

On the regional stage, Qatar has mediated in nearly 10 regional and international portfolios in less than 8 years (2008 – 2016), exerting strenuous diplomatic and political efforts at the regional and international levels in mediating between factions, entities and countries, with the request of the concerned parties, and without interfering in the internal affairs of others, with a view to achieve convergence of views and find sustainable solutions for conflicts and differences, HE the Foreign Minister said.

His Excellency also touched on some recent events, saying: “Beginning in April, Qatar was subjected to a carefully orchestrated and unprecedented smear campaign designed to misrepresent our policies and our positions on key issues affecting our region.

“The climax of that campaign came on May 24, when the website of our official news agency was hacked, and fake quotes, attributed to HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, were posted on line. Some fake quotes with my name on them were also sent out on our twitter feed.

“Once we sorted out the technical details, we sent urgent messages to all of the news organizations in the region, alerting them to the false statements that had been posted on our website. Almost all of them immediately issued corrections and alerted their readers and viewers that the fabricated “statements” were actually “fake news”, lies. Except, that is, for the news outlets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Bahrain and Egypt, which continued to report the fake news as fact. It is worthy to note that Qatar news outlets were censored in these blockading countries two hours before the fabricated news was published.

“Furthermore, officials from the blockading countries were not merely criticizing Qatar’s policies – something we have always welcomed – but they were calling for a regime change in Qatar, a coup, and inciting hate and violence.

“Though the hacking incident was quickly exposed, Saudi Arabia and the UAE used it as the pretext for launching an unprovoked, unwarranted and unjustified blockade of Qatar on June 5.

“For almost three weeks, after June 5th, we have been asking for specific demands as our neighbors decided to put the cart before the horse. And only under international and especially American pressure did they, on June 23rd, present us with a list of 13 “demands” that they said we had to meet by July 3rd.

“It was immediately apparent to us that they did not represent “reasonable and actionable” grievances against Qatar, as the US Secretary of State had hoped, and they were not “measured and realistic “as the UK’s Foreign Secretary said they should be. Instead, Qatar was asked to (1) curtail free expression, (2) hand over individuals at risk of torture and arbitration, (3) reduce its defense capabilities, (4) go against international law, (5) outsource its foreign policy to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi and (6) literally sign an open cheque to the blockading countries to pay unlimited amounts of money, described as compensation.”

HE pointed out that the ultimatum did not only demand the shutting down of Aljazeera, but also other news outlets based here in the UK that represent free press for the people of the Middle East, adding “Reading between the lines, the blockading countries were demanding that we must surrender our sovereignty as the price for ending the siege – something they knew Qatar would never do.”

For the record, these demands and accusations were never channeled to us previously; in fact for the first time a summit of all GCC foreign, defense and interior ministers was held in Riyadh on the 27th of April 2017. A ministerial meeting and a summit followed in May. There were no grievances or requests discussed, His Excellency added.

Clearly, the blockading countries did not submit their demands with the expectation that they would provide a framework for resolving their differences with Qatar, he added.

“Had they actually been interested in addressing the issues, they would have used the mechanisms specified in the GCC Charter, specifically the arbitration mechanism outlined in the 2014 Riyadh Agreement which they claim Qatar violated,” he said, adding that the neighboring countries violated the Riyadh Agreement that states that member governments must take their grievances to the GCC executive body first, before taking action against any GCC member.

“Most of the demands were only of interest to our Arab neighbors, but the allegation that Qatar supports terrorism was clearly designed to generate anti-Qatar sentiment in the West.

“But how about policies that deal with terrorism directly. Well I can say with confidence that we have been anything, but soft on terrorism.

He added, “As the blockading countries know, Qatar has passed stringent laws and regulations to ban the financing of terrorism by private individuals and by so-called “charities.” We work with the intelligence and security services of the UK, the US and all of the countries in our region to bring terrorists and their supporters to justice.

“Alongside its security and surveillance, and its coordination and the sharing of information with its allies in the war on terror. The State of Qatar is also committed to ending the social and political factors conducive to terrorism.”

HE the Foreign Minister said that Qatar works against the ideologies which entrap young men and women into terrorism, as well as the tyranny and state violence which induce terrorism. While investing 12 percent of its government spending on education, Qatar has allocated 25% of its foreign aid towards education in belief that education is the cornerstone of stability and the most effective preventive measure for extremism. This is why Qatar has invested in educating 7 million children in 42 countries, he said.

“We know that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Daesh have put our government – just like the governments of all of the Gulf nations – on their list of enemies. More importantly, the challenges of transnational terrorism is not unique to Qatar, but it is a regional and global threat that requires a collective effort and political commitment from all.”

His Excellency said that the danger here, lies in the politicization of terrorism. “Qatar opposes violent extremism, that is a global threat to all humanity. However, what other countries fail to grasp is that labeling political opponents as terrorists merely to silence them regardless of how we may feel about their agendas is both unjustified and fails to solve any problems. Not only morally wrong, it would likely make the problem worse by driving more people into radicalism, and divert attention away from the battle against the genuine terrorists.

“We are very much concerned about how politicized the label terrorism might come out of this crisis, should Western governments not take a clear position towards this manipulation of concepts and terminology. As I indicated in my introduction, this manipulation has already and will continue to obscure the real sources of violent extremism, as some of our neighbors label political dissidents as terrorists.

“We feel that demonizing people who are presenting legitimate grievances peacefully – and oppressing movements advocating for peaceful change – only drives well-meaning people into the arms of the extremists. And we feel that keeping independent news and information from the eyes and ears of the people only demonstrates fear and weakness.”

HE the Foreign Minister said, “These issues are at the heart of our disagreements with our neighbors – and they are serious issues. But here is the crux of the matter: We have seen how young people – left without hope for a better future – turn to violence in the name of jihad, and we have watched as the world blames “Islam” for this tragedy. This must stop.”

HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani referred to when HH the Emir said that “the problem isn’t Islam, it’s hopelessness and the causes of that hopelessness, too often, are governments that fail to meet the needs of their people.”

HE the foreign minister added that he knows that this message “will not be well received in some of our neighboring capitals,” noting that “there are serious problems in the Gulf region and in the Middle East, and silencing Qatar will not solve them.”

“The answer to our disagreements is not blockades and ultimatums. It is dialogue and reason. We in Qatar are always open to both, and we welcome any serious efforts to resolve our differences with our neighbors. The nations of the Middle East all of us face enormous challenges, both externally and internally. In Qatar, we believe that we have a better opportunity to meet these challenges if we work on them together. And we always welcome dialogue and negotiations.

“All that I have described here this afternoon begs the central question: why did the blockading countries take these extraordinary, unprovoked and hostile actions against Qatar? Put another way, why is Qatar’s independence such a threat to them?” HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said.

He went on to answer, saying that he thinks “it’s because we have different views on politics and governance in the Middle East, and about the best path forward for our collective future.”

“In Qatar, we believe that citizens everywhere should have the right to a government that is responsive to their needs and representative of their interests.

“We are not a democracy, this is a fact and we don’t claim otherwise. But our system of ‘consultative monarchy’ enjoys widespread and enthusiastic support from our people. It also facilitates various channels to allow policy feedback, and this is the very reason why Qatar was not alarmed by the Arab peoples’ uprisings in 2011,” HE the foreign minister said.

“This is why the Qatari government unlike many of our neighbors never felt threatened by the Arab Spring movement. It’s why we have confidently opened our doors to political groups who are advocating for change whether we agree with them or not. And it is why Al Jazeera, an independent news network, helps inform Arabs and the wider world alike about the social, political and economic developments in our region,” he added.

HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani reiterated that “Al Jazeera did and continues to look critically at all Arab countries including Qatar, hosting opposing and alternative views daily,” stressing that it’s “something that does not exist anywhere else in the region.”

“Our neighbors see change those advocating for it, and those reporting on it as a threat and they are quick to label anyone who opposes their governments as a ‘terrorist.’ In Qatar, we embrace change, we welcome constructive criticism in order to develop.

“Qatar has never undermined the collective security of the region, as we believe that any threat to the region is a threat to Qatar. As the 48-hour extension is coming to an end, Qatar continues to call for dialogue, despite the violations of international laws and regulations, despite the separation of 12,000 families, despite the siege that is a clear aggression and an insult to all international treaties, bodies and jurisdiction.

“Looking at the way forward, we must layout any and all legitimate concerns and discuss the claims and allegations through presenting evidence and engaging in a constructive dialogue. Qatar stands ready to engage in a negotiations process with a clear framework and set of principles that guarantee that our sovereignty is not infringed upon,” HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said as he concluded his speech.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs