Arab states that have imposed sanctions on Qatar, accusing it of links to terrorism, were due to meet in Cairo on Wednesday to consider Doha’s response to a stiff ultimatum, but settlement of the dispute seemed far off.
The editor of the Abu Dhabi government linked al-Ittihad newspaper wrote in an editorial that Qatar was “walking alone in its dreams and illusions, far away from its Gulf Arab brothers”. Foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain will consider whether to escalate, or less likely abandon, the boycott imposed on Qatar last month that has rattled a key oil-producing region and unnerved strategic Western allies.
Qatar faces further isolation and possible expulsion from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) if its response to a list of demands made nearly two weeks ago is not deemed satisfactory. The Arab countries have demanded Qatar curtail its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, shut down the pan-Arab al Jazeera TV channel, close down a Turkish base and downgrade its ties with regional arch-rival Iran. They view Qatar’s independent diplomatic stances and support for 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings as support for terrorism and a dangerous breaking of ranks – charges Doha vigorously denies.
Qatar has countered that the Arab countries want to curb free speech and take over its foreign policy, saying their 13 demands are so harsh they were made to be rejected.
The gas-rich state had raised its international profile dramatically in recent years, drawing on huge gas revenues, and developed its economy with ambitious infrastructure projects. It is due to host the soccer world cup in 2022.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said at a joint news conference with his German counterpart on Tuesday that its response was “given in goodwill and good initiative for a constructive solution”, but insisted that Doha would not compromise on its sovereignty.
Gulf officials have said the demands are not negotiable, signalling more sanctions are possible, including “parting ways” with Doha – a suggestion it may be ejected from the GCC, a regional economic and security cooperation body founded in 1981. “A Gulf national may be obliged to prepare psychologically for his Gulf to be without Qatar,” the editor of the Abu Dhabi al-Ittihad newspaper said.
Some newspapers said remarks by Sheikh Mohammed in which he stressed his country would not compromise on its sovereignty suggests that Doha would not change its policies. Qatari officials have repeatedly said the demands are so draconian that they suspect the four countries never seriously intended to negotiate them, and were instead seeing to hobble Doha’s sovereignty. At the same time, they have said Qatar is interested in negotiating a fair and just solution to issues they view as a legitimate concern to fellow GCC member states.