• Today we’re all Qataris

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    FRANCISCO S. TATAD

    FRANCISCO S. TATAD

    AMIDST the darkening clouds across the Persian Gulf, we need to hope that Kuwait’s mediation effort, supported by France, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, the US, Germany and the African Union, among others, could restore harmony and stability to the region which plays a vital role in the global fight against terrorism, and where over one million of the 10-million Filipino diaspora have made their home. I sincerely hope so. After all, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Qatar are all like-minded nations, with more native commonalities than differences; for one, they are all close allies of the world’s and the region’s dominant power, the United States.

    The first four states in the group have accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, and they have cut off diplomatic and transport ties with the tiny rich state, without offering any tangible proof of their accusation. Qatar has denied the charge as baseless fabrications, and asked for proof from its accusers. But in response the four states, which have since been joined by Comoros, Mauritania, Maldives, the eastern government of Libya,Yemen and Senegal, gave Doha a 10-day deadline to accept a 13-point demand, based on their original accusation. That ultimatum expired on Monday, July 3, but was extended by another 48 hours at Kuwait’s request by the four countries.

    Qatar’s response
    Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani arrived in Kuwait on Monday, and was immediately received by his counterpart and by Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, bearing a letter from Qatari Emir Sheikh Tanim bin Hamad Al Thani in response to the 13-point demand. The content of the letter was not immediately disclosed, but it was expected to be discussed by the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Qatar in Cairo today (Wednesday). There is no indication Qatar has accepted any of the 13 demands, but it is reasonable to believe that Doha wants ample room for a constructive and forward-looking dialogue.

    On Sunday evening, US President Donald Trump was reported to have burned the wires talking on the phone to King Salman of Saudi Arabia, UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan and the Qatari Emir about the critical role of the countries, which together with Kuwait and Oman form the 37-year-old Gulf Cooperation Council, in defeating terrorism and promoting regional stability.

    Meanwhile, the president of Guinea and chair of the African Union opened the 29th AU summit in Addis Ababa on Monday by calling for an end to the Gulf dispute, while German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called for “serious dialogue” between the parties as he began a tour of the troubled Gulf states. These are but the latest statements from foreign dignitaries in support of a peaceful resolution of the dispute.

    The Saudi bloc’s demands
    The 13 points, as reported worldwide, include the following:

    Relations with Iran. Scale down diplomatic ties with Iran, with whom Qatar shares ownership and control of the world’s largest gas field (Qatar to the north and Iran to the south), and close the Iranian diplomatic mission in Qatar, expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and cut off military and intelligence cooperation with Iran. Trade and commerce with Iran must comply with US and international sanctions in a manner that does not jeopardize the security of the GCC.

    Relations with Turkey. Immediately shut down the Turkish military base, which is under construction, and halt military cooperation with Turkey, which like the US, is a strategic partner in the fight against the Islamic State, inside of Qatar. (The US maintains its central command base in the Global Coalition Against Daesh at Al Udeid Air Base but has not pressured Qatar to reject or scale down military cooperation with Ankara.)

    Relations with various organizations. Declare as terrorist organizations all those so declared by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, such as Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Fateh al-Sham, etc., and sever all ties to them. Concur with all future updates of this list by the four countries.

    (The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt by Sunni Islamic scholar Hassan al-Banna in 1928 and had won elective seats for some of its members. Its candidate Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s first elected president after the 2011 Egyptian revolution, but was overthrown a year later. Some Arab countries have declared it a terrorist organization, but the fact that it has elected members serving in parliament makes it difficult for some other countries to declare it as such, as recently acknowledged by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The Economist in a recent editorial described the Muslim Brotherhood as “the most popular face of political Islam.”

    Hezbollah, on the other hand, is a Shi’a Islamist militant group and political party based in Lebanon, while Fateh al-Sham is described as a Salafist jihadist organization based in Syria and the Levant.)

    Funding for certain individuals, groups and organizations. Stop all means of funding for those that have been designated as terrorists by the four countries, the US and others.

    (Not everything is as it seems. In a recent interview with the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, former CIA director and retired general David Petraeus revealed that Qatar had hosted, obviously at some expense, delegations from the Taliban, the Sunni Islamic fundamentalist movement in Afghanistan, and Hamas, the Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization based in Gaza, at the request of the US, apparently as part of its global intelligence operations.)

    Fugitives and wanted individuals. Hand over such personalities to their countries of origin, freeze their assets and provide all desired information about their residency, finances and movements.

    Al Jazeera. Shut down this global broadcasting network and all its affiliate stations. This means Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Jazeera France, Al Jazeera Latino, Al Jazeera Documentary, Al Jazeera Direct, Al Jazeera Live, Al Jazeera Asia, Al Jazeera Institute, Al Jazeera Center for Human Rights. (To The Economist, and generally to the Western press, Al Jazeera “is the nearest the Middle East has to an uncensored broadcaster…”)

    Other media outlets. Shut down all news outlets funded directly or indirectly by Qatar, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al Araby, Al Jadeed, Mekamelen and Middle East Eye, etc.

    Wanted nationals. Stop granting Qatari citizenship to such nationals from the four countries, and revoke any citizenship already granted which violates the laws of these countries.

    Loss of life and other losses. Pay reparations for such losses resulting from Qatar’s policies.

    Realignment of all policies. Align Qatar’s military, political, social and economic policieswith those of the other Gulf and Arab countries, and in accordance with the 2014 agreement with Saudi Arabia as far as economic matters are concerned.

    Political opposition. Cease all contacts with the political opposition in the four countries, and hand over files containing such contacts and support for the opposition. Submit detailed information about the opposition personalities and the support extended to them.

    Unilateral deadline. Agree to all the demands within 10 days of the list being submitted to Qatar.

    Performance audit. Consent to a monthly compliance audit in the first year after agreeing to the demands, followed by quarterly audits in the second year, and annual audits in the next 10 years.

    Absolute power at play
    As a neutral observer, whose interest lies principally in what happens to the fabric of international law, and what happens to our OFWs in the Gulf, I find it virtually impossible to comment on these demands without feeling profoundly sorry for the parties involved. It is to be regretted, beyond words, that Saudi Arabia seems determined to imagine itself as an absolute power that can dictate its terms on a vassal who has no choice but to obey, and I am sorry to see Qatar humiliated to this extent.

    The situation could not have been worse if the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar had fought a bloody war, which the latter had lost, and it has now to accept the terms of surrender on Doha Bay aboard a Saudi Arabian battleship. The terms of surrender of Japan to the Allied Powers on board the USS Missouri on Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945 may have been far more generous.

    For while the Allies demanded the unconditional surrender of all the Japanese armed forces, and limited Japan’s sovereignty to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such other small islands as they may determine according to the Cairo Declaration of 1943, they nevertheless provided that the Japanese government “shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people.”

    “Freedom of speech, of religion and thought as well as respect for fundamental human rights shall be established,” said the Potsdam Declaration of July 27, 1945, which defined the terms of Japan’s surrender. This is the exact opposite of the Saudi bloc’s demand that Qatar expunge all traces of Al Jazeera and all other news outlets as evidence of its democratization. Without having to take any side in this conflict, one is compelled to say the 13-point demand is an unspeakable embarrassment. It is a throwback to a bygone age.

    Given the enormous wealth and power of the parties involved, which have apparently caused even Trump to walk the tightrope, I was hesitant from the very beginning to say anything about it. I did not want to lose any of my friends on either side. But there was no decent way of getting out of it. A young friend tried to simplify it for me.

    Putting ourselves in their shoes
    How would I respond, my friend asked, if the US and its Asian allies were to demand that President Rodrigo Duterte scale down his ties with China, which has already promised us billions of dollars in loans, and donated P15 million for the rehabilitation of Marawi and a stockpile of arms and ammo with which to fight the Mautes; stop the flow of Chinese investors, tourists and other visitors; boycott President Xi Jinping’s One Belt, One Road program; and reject all proposed transport and communications projects from the Chinese government?

    =Conversely, how would I react, he asked, if China and its Asian allies, having become DU30’s closest friends, were to demand that we scale down our ties with the US, dismantle our Mutual Defense Treaty, our Visiting Forces Agreement, our Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, the US AID, and send home the US special forces helping our troops clean up Marawi? Both situations are hypothetical and perhaps unthinkable for us Filipinos. But it is as real to every Qatari as the wicked punches that brought down our boxing idol Manny Pacquiao from his erstwhile throne in Brisbane, Australia. Indeed, the 13-point demand is a brutal attack on Qatar’s right to self-determination and sovereignty, and on the honor, dignity and self-respect of every Qatari. It puts everyone of us, who cares for our inherent human and political dignity, in the position of the average Qatari.

    Indeed, today we are all Qataris.

    * * *

    Correction: In my column on Monday, the date of the Permanent Arbitral Court ruling on the Philippine maritime dispute with China erroneously appeared as July 12, 2017. The correct date is July 12, 2016. Sorry.

    fstatad@gmail.com

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