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Qatar – the end of the road?

Analysis: The Saudis and their Arab allies have had enough of Qatar and its media proxy al Jazeera’s behavior. They intend to win this fight.

The Emirate of Qatar is a peninsula that juts out from Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf. The only overland route out of Qatar is by way of Saudi Arabia and if that route is blocked, the only way to reach Qatar or leave it is by air or sea. However, flights to and from Qatar pass over Saudi air space part of the time and ships from or to Qatar have to pass through Saudi territorial waters. This means that Saudi Arabia can in effect declare a total blockade on Qatar if it so desires. It has never done so before, but it began the process on June 5th.

In addition to a blockade, the Saudis, joined by the United Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Mauritius, the Philippines and the Maldives, cut off diplomatic and consular relations with Qatar.  Egypt, Libya and the Emirates declared that they would ban Qatari plans and ships from their air space and territorial waters. In 2014, these countries took much milder steps in order to punish Qatar, cancelling them once Qatar agreed to accept the dictates of the Umma and signed the Riyadh agreement along with the rest of the Arab nations.

The reasons provided by the countries involved for the unprecedented severity of the current steps against Qatar included: “Qatar aids the Muslim Brotherhood and other terror organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS and Jebhat al-Nusrah” and “The Emir of  Qatar has declared that Iran is a good nation” as well as “Qatar destabilizes our regime,” as well  as ” Qatar provides hiding places and shelter to Muslim Brotherhood leaders who fled there from Egypt,” and “Qatar is giving aid to  the Houthi rebels (read Shiites) in Yemen.”

Another and most subtle reason, whose source is a Kuwaiti commentator, appears on al Jazeera‘s site: “Qatar refused to meet Trump’s financial demands.” This odd remark relates to a rumor on Facebook and other social network sites claiming that before Trump agreed to come to the Riyadh Arab League Conference, he demanded the Gulf Emirates purchase US arms in the legendary sum of one and a half trillion dollars, to be divided among Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Emirates. The three agreed, but Qatar pulled out at the last minute, causing the Emirates to follow suit, and leaving the Saudis holding the bill demanded by Trump.   The falling through of this deal, the largest in history, may have been the reason for Trump’s noticeably grim face in Riyadh.

Claiming that Qatar causes the destabilization of regimes is a veiled hint referring to al Jazeera which broadcasts from Qatar. Every since it began broadcasting in 1996 from the capital city of Qatar, Doha, al Jazeera has infuriated Arab rulers because it constantly carries out a media Jihad against them also aimed at others such as  Israel, the US, the West and Western culture. The channel also promotes and supports the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots such as Hamas, al Qaeda and the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel headed by Sheikh Raad Salah. Al Jazeera‘s media strategy is determined by Qatar’s Emir and is carried out down to the last detail by its very professional leading broadcaster and editorial policy setter, Jamal Rian, a Palestinian born in Tul Karem in 1953, who moved to Jordan where he was active in the Muslim Brotherhood until expelled by King Hussein.

Every so often other Arab regimes, chief among them Egypt under Mubarak, attempted to close down al Jazeera‘s offices in their countries after overly harsh criticism was aimed at the ruling government, only to reopen them when al Jazeera simply stepped up its attacks

The general feeling is that any government official – or anyone at all – who opposes a ruling regime (and there is no shortage of these people in any Arab country) leaks embarrassing information to  al Jazeera all the time, so that the channel is always poised to expose the information when the time is ripe and especially if the now-cornered victim has been unfriendly to it and to Islamists. The thought of this happening is enough to paralyze every Arab leader who would like to clamp down on al Jazeera in his country.

Every time a conflict erupts between Israel and Hamas, al Jazeera comes out in favor of the terrorist organization because of Qatar’s support of it. Hamas leader Haled Mashaal, makes his home in Qatar and the Qatari Emir is the only Arab leader so far to visit Hamas-ruled Gaza. The Emir has give billions to Hamas, enabling the organization to develop its  terror infrastructure.

Qatar has budgeted half a billion dollars to “buy” organizations such as UNESCO (whose next head will, unsurprisingly, be from Qatar), as well as media, academic and government figures to advance the goal of removing Jerusalem from Israeli hands. Al Jazeera runs a well publicized and organized campaign in order to ensure this outcome. This is the face of media jihad.

Saudi Arabia has never allowed al Jazeera‘s reporters to work from within the country, but does allow them to cover special events once in a while, mainly the Hajj. The Saudis know exactly what the Emir had up his sleeve when he founded a media network that would rule over Arab monarchs by means of recording their slip-ups, taking advantage of the Arab obsession with avoiding public humiliation by broadcasting from a satellite that can reach every house in the Arab world with no way of blocking it.

The last reports are that the Saudis blocked access to the al Jazeera internet site from their territory.  It is harder to block al Jazeera‘s satellite channel reception legally and it can still be accessed throughout the monarchy. Arab media attribute the blockage to declarations supportive of Hamas and Hezbollah made by the Emir of Qatar after Trump’s speech in Riyadh in which the US president included Hamas and Hezbollah in his list of terror organization, equating them with al Qaeda and ISIS.

Sorry, but I do not buy that story. Declarations about third parties (Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah) are ordinarily not the reason a public dispute erupts between Iranian monarchs. In my opinion, the reason for blocking the al Jazeera site in Saudi Arabia is a photograph posted on the al Jazeera site while Trump was in Riyadh.

This photo shows King Suleiman of Saudi Arabia awarding the Gold Decoration, the highest honor of the Saudi monarchy, to Donald Trump, but that is not the reason it was posted on al Jazeera. The reason has to do with the woman appearing in it and standing between Suleiman and Trump. I do not know what her name is, but she accompanied Trump during his entire stay in Riyadh standing just behind him and carrying a briefcase. Perhaps she is an interpreter. She is carrying a briefcase filled with important documents that have to be with Trump all the time in one picture as he, of course, would not be seen carrying a briefcase and standing be

What is interesting about this woman is that she spent the entire time in the royal palace with her hair uncovered, like Melania Trump, the First Lady, did, even though women with uncovered hair are not to be seen in Saudi Arabia. In the palace, women are also not allowed to b e seen in the company of men. Al Jazeera posted this photo intentionally, in order to embarrass the king who granted Trump an award even though he was accompanied by women who, like those in the picture, who do not cover their hair. That photo of the king was the last straw and the Saudis blocked al Jazeera.

Qatar is now under great pressure. The nations that broke off relations with Qatar have stopped recognizing the Qatari Rial as a viable currency and have confiscated all the Qatari Rials in their banks. As a result, Qatar cannot purchase goods with its own currency and must use its foreign currency reserves. The supermarket shelves in Qatar have been emptied by residents hoarding food for fear that the blockade will not allow food to be imported. Long lines of cars can be seen trying to leave for Saudi Arabia to escape being shut up in the besieged, wayward country.

Qatar is trying to get the US to help improve the situation. The largest American air force base in the Gulf is located in  Qatar and it is from there that the attacks on ISIS are generated. Qatar also hosts the US Navy Fifth Fleet as well as the Central Command and Control of US forces in that part of the world. Qatari media stress the US concern about the siege that the Saudis have put on Qatar.

As part of its efforts to enlist US aid, Qatar has begun a counterattack: Qatar media have publicized that the U.A.E. ambassador, Yousef Al Otaiba , said on US election eve: “What star could make Donald Trump the president?” This is intended to cause a rift between the US and the Gulf Emirates, but will certainly not improve Qatar’s own relations with the Emirates.

Meanwhile, the Saudis and the Emirates have ejected Qatar from the coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, and there are rumors that they will also remove Qatar from the Council for Cooperation in the Gulf. The Saudis could suspend Qatar’s membership in the Arab League and other organizations if this dispute continues, raising the pressure on the Emir’s al-Thani clan.

The next few days will decide Qatar’s future. There  is a distinct possibility that the foreign ministers of Qatar and the Arab nations taking part in the boycott against it will meet in some neutral spot, perhaps Kuwait, Qatar will give in and new rules will be set by Arab leaders, that is by King Suleiman, to keep Qatar in line. They would include: toning down al Jazeera and perhaps even switching its managerial staff, ending the support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other terror organizations, ending cooperation with Iran and above all, listening to what the Saudi “Big Brother” says about issues, especially those having to do with financial dealings with the US. Once the conditions for Qatari surrender are agreed upon, we can expect the ministers to meet the press, publicize a declaration on the end of the intra-family dispute, shake hands before the cameras and smile – until the next crisis.

There is, however, another scenario: Qatar does not give in, the Saudis and its allies invade, their armies eject the Emir and Mufti of Qatar, and also Jamal Rian, the guiding brain behind Al Jazeera’s  policies. They would then appoint a new Emir from the ruling family, one who knows how to behave, one who listens to the Saudis.  No one except for Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas would oppose this solution, and the soft-spoken condemnations will not succeed in hiding the world’s joy and sighs of relief if the Saudis actually carry out that plan.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky, Op-ed editor and senior consultant Israelnationalnews.com.

Al Jazeera Reporter Endorses Terrorists

Why is Ahmad Zaidan, Al Jazeera’s Islamabad bureau chief, tacitly endorsing a terrorist organization?

In an op-ed for Al Jazeera’s English website on June 2, entitled “Nusra Front’s quest for a united Syria,” Zaidan writes that the Islamist militant rebel group in Syria is distancing itself from Al-Qaeda and “positioning itself as the natural heir of jihadi ideology.”

The Al Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Syria, is one of the largest, most powerful and best-organized rebel groups fighting the Assad regime, and in December 2012 it landed on the U.S. State Department List of Terrorist Organizations. Officially designated as an alias of Al-Qaeda, Al Nusra was branded for the more than 600 attacks it had claimed responsibility for since November 2011, many of which had taken the lives of innocent Syrian civilians. Recent victories as part of a rebel coalition against the Assad regime in the northwest province of Idlib have further bolstered Al Nusra and strengthened the group’s leadership position among Syria’s anti-government forces.

Zaidan’s bias in favor of Nusra is clear almost immediately, when he notes that when he was covering Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, his “hosts” from those two terror organizations never offered him more than “simple tea and bread for breakfast,” whereas his Al Nusra hosts had generously laid out a “dozen dishes” for him. However, his appreciation of a wider range of breakfast options quickly turns to using his position as a leading reporter for the most influential news network in the Middle East — and the larger Muslim world — essentially to act as a mouthpiece for Al Nusra.

Ahmad Zaidan, Al Jazeera’s Islamabad bureau chief, is shown here reporting from Damascus, Syria. (Image source: Al Jazeera video screenshot)

Zaidan recounts and quotes extensively from a separate interview conducted by Al Jazeera Arabic on May 27 with Al Nusra’s leader, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, to emphasize differences between Jolani’s leadership tactics and those of Al-Qaeda under Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Zaidan writes that Jolani “defies al-Qaeda’s legacy of going after minorities,” highlighting a promise from Jolani that if the Alawites (an offshoot sect of Shia Islam to which Syria’s ruling family and many of its supporters belong) were to abandon the Assad regime, they “would be welcome” in a new Syria.

Jolani, according to Zaidan, also promised that Druze communities in Syria would be protected; as a result of that statement, he has received support from Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Lebanese Druze.

The problem with Zaidan’s translation of the interview with Jolani from Arabic to English is that he leaves out a critical caveat that Jolani made regarding protection of the Alawites, considered by many Sunni Islamists, including Al-Qaeda and Al Nusra, not to be true Muslims, but apostates of Islam. A Guardian article, reporting on Jolani’s interview with Al Jazeera, accurately translated Jolani’s relevant quote as: “If the Alawites leave their religion and leave Bashar al-Assad, we will protect them.” [Emphasis added.]

Zaidan seemingly manipulated the original quote to obscure that Al Nusra is, in fact, not tolerant of other religions or religious minorities, and that only religious conversion would allow Alawites to remain safely in Syria under Al Nusra leadership.

Also absent from Zaidan’s characterization of Al Nusra as more tolerant than Al-Qaeda, is any mention of Syria’s significant Christian minority, which makes up about 10% of the population.

The Guardian article, however, does translate Jolani’s remarks on Christians; his words are far from accepting. The Guardian paraphrases Jolani as saying that “in a future state ruled by Islamic law, the financially capable would pay ‘jizya,’ or tax reserved for non-Muslims.”

Zaidan’s misleading translation and editing of Jolani’s interview reveal more than bias: they demonstrate a violation of a basic principle of journalistic ethics: not to manipulate quotes from sources in a way that fundamentally changes their meaning. Zaidan has done just that — and to support a terrorist organization, no less.

Many who commented on Zaidan’s article noticed his deceitful omission. Journalist Evan Hill, who speaks Arabic and has covered the Middle East for both Al Jazeera and the Guardiantweeted, “Is it me or does Zaidan leave out the part of the Alawite quote where he said ‘give up your beliefs’?”

Having less-than-subtly revealed his support for Al Nusra, Zaidan continues sounding off as an unofficial media spokesman for the group. He cites “recent leaks” that Al Nusra leaders have decided to leave “the al-Qaeda umbrella and operate exclusively as a Syrian party aiming to establish an Islamic State,” although a public announcement of such a break has yet to happen.

According to Zaidan, “[S]uch a move, whenever made, would not only satisfy Nusra’s followers,” of which Zaidan certainly seems to be one; it would “also pull the carpet from under the feet of ISIL.” In other words, as his article’s subtitle, “Nusra Front is positioning itself as the natural heir of jihadi ideology,” makes clear, Al Nusra sees itself as the group that will upstage the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) to control Islamist jihadi ideology in Syria — hardly a comforting alternative to Assad and ISIS.

The Middle East — especially Syria and Iraq — needs a great deal of humanitarian aid just now; what it does not need is competition between brutal, seventh century-styled Islamic states. Nevertheless, Zaidan seems to be of the opinion that the way to take down ISIS is a competing caliphate.

Certainly, the half-hearted U.S.-led strategy for fighting ISIS has thus far failed to produce any promising signs that ISIS is on the retreat — especially since the loss of Ramadi in Anbar province last month. Leaving terrorist groups to duke it out, however, has also failed to end the conflict.

The excuse Zaidan offers for his support of Al Nusra is that the international community — as well as any non-Islamist rebel forces on the ground in Syria — have failed to help citizens under siege from the Assad regime, and that these failures have led to increased sympathy among the population for Islamist rebel groups who “exercise real power.”

While this is an accurate, although overly simple, assessment of the situation in Syria, it hardly seems a sufficient reason for Zaidan, as a leading reporter for a major global news network, with unparalleled media influence in the Muslim world, to endorse the cause of a terrorist organization.

To Zaidan, however, not only is the current situation in Syria reason enough to throw his support behind Al Nusra, it is also a reason to chastise the United States for not having already gotten on the group’s bandwagon. Comparing Al Nusra to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Zaidan writes: “Washington used to depict the PLO as a terrorist outfit — but then took a U-turn.” Zaidan’s use of the word “depict” is telling; to him, Al Nusra is not a terrorist group; rather it is unfairly being labeled one by the United States.

Instead, he suggests that the U.S. should repeat history and change its tactics toward Al Nusra. However, this change would entail the U.S. supporting a group that does not believe in religious tolerance even among Muslims; that views Christians as second-class citizens, and that uses terrorist tactics, including the attempted use of chemical weapons, in its fighting against the Assad regime, just as the regime has done.

Zaidan draws another parallel to support Al Nusra: between Al Nusra and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He notes that the group was “once the main target of the US military, but is not currently designated as a ‘terrorist organization’ by either the UN, UK or the US.” Finally, he reminds his readers that Washington no longer brands “Hezbollah or Iranian Quds Force’s Qassem Soleimani” as terrorists.

Zaidan argues that since the United States has changed relationships with these current or former terrorist organizations, it should take another extremely dangerous militant Islamist group off its terrorist list.

However, Zaidan’s comparisons should raise concerns about whom the Obama administration designates as terrorists — or even chooses as strategic partners: If these groups are not America’s enemies, who is?

Zaidan proceeds to call the Obama administration hypocritical for supporting “alien” Shia militias “fighting on behalf of Baghdad,” but not demonstrating the same support for “Syrian fighters — such as those who make up Nusra’s ranks” waging war against Assad. Again, Zaidan’s argument should give the White House pause as to whom the U.S. is partnering with in Iraq. Iranian-backed Shia militias, while they may be committed to fighting ISIS, can hardly be considered long-term partners for a stable Iraq.

In his closing thoughts, Zaidan makes a half-hearted attempt to mention the importance of “tolerance” and “build[ing] bridges” in Syria, although given his support for a group whose goal is supposedly to convert everyone to its extremist brand of Sunni Islam or force discriminating taxes on them, honest reconciliation does not seem to be a priority for him.

More alarming than Zaidan’s support for Al Nusra and his editorial dishonestly is that Al Jazeera allowed this article to be published. Zaidan is entitled to express his opinions, regardless of how unsettling they might be. This was, after all, an op-ed piece; the disclaimer at the bottom clearly states that the views presented in the article do not represent the views of Al Jazeera. So while Al Jazeera should not have censored Zaidan for the content of his piece, it was irresponsible and unethical to have published an article that, through deceitful editing practices, grossly misrepresents Al Nusra’s ideology.

As for Zaidan, whatever sympathies he may have for Al Nusra, his loyalty to the ethics of his profession and his responsibility to his readers evidently do not outweigh his loyalties to a terrorist organization.

Follow Rachael Hanna on Twitter.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the Gatestone Institute International Policy Council website.