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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Doha must work harder to restore trust

Qatar has made a small step towards ending the crisis. it still has plenty of work to do

Sheikh Tamim delivers a televised speech in Doha. QNA
Sheikh Tamim delivers a televised speech in Doha. QNA

Over the course of the now weeks long Qatar crisis, the quartet of nations has maintained a consistent voice. For all the protests and misplaced outrage that has emanated from Doha, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain have articulated, in the clearest possible terms, that the funding of terrorism and extremism by Qatar lies at the heart of this dispute.

As Anwar Gargash, the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, told a London audience last week, Qatar has supported “the cause of jihadism across the Middle East” for far too long. The only way for the crisis to end, the quartet have said time and again, is for Qatar to demonstrate that it is willing to negotiate and show a serious commitment to ending its reckless campaign of funding terrorism.

Much will be made of the speech and decree that Doha delivered one after the other this weekend. First, Qatar announced it would correct its anti-terrorism law. The sweeping legislative amendment included alterations to the definition of terrorists, crimes, terror acts and entities, the creation of a terror list of individuals and organisations and the freezing of funding for such activities. The rule change also allows individuals the right to challenge such a designation.

Separately, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar’s ruler, indicated that he was now willing to negotiate with the quartet of nations and that he was not afraid of correcting “our error”. Dr Gargash described the decrees as a “step in the right direction”.

The minister’s words were both deliberate and instructive. This is a step, no more than that. It is vindication for the quartet, because Qatar is beginning to fully understand the severity of the situation and, indeed, the willingness of the four nations to continue with the present action until Doha reforms its ways. But recognition of an error is one thing, a willingness to avoid repeating the same mistake again is another.

Qatar must now back words with actions. Trust in it is at an all-time low. Doha has, after all, acted against the greater good of the region for far too long. The decree suggests Qatar wants to follow a more constructive path, but implementation now becomes key. Severed ties will not be restored until the decree delivers.

Sheikh Tamim will now have to lay out how the verification and implementation process will work, otherwise the amendment will be little more than an elaborate piece of window dressing. He will also have to understand that future dialogue must be focused on how Qatar intends to restore trust and on how Doha will stop funding extremism. The events of the weekend were a small step. Giant leaps will follow, but only if Qatar’s emir comprehends the gravity of the situation.