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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Gulf relations can be restored but only if Qatar follows the right path

Anwar Gargash offers some hard talk and clarity about the ongoing regional crisis

Anwar Gargash speaking at Chatham House in London. Neil Hall / Reuters
Anwar Gargash speaking at Chatham House in London. Neil Hall / Reuters

Over the course of the now weeks-long Qatar crisis, Chatham House in London has served as the unlikely and informal court of arbitration in this regional dispute.

Earlier this month, Qatar’s foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, delivered a baffling speech from Chatham House, speaking mysteriously of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE stirring “anti-Qatar sentiment in the West”, while at the same time seeking to curry favour for his Gulf state among the London audience. Many of those in attendance left the event perplexed. One attendee summed up the experience by saying it was “a little weird”.

If that speech had a touch of the theatre of bizarre about it, then Monday’s speech by Anwar Gargash presented an altogether more coherent and comprehensible world view. The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs preferred hard talk and clarity where his Qatari counterpart had presented obfuscation and bewildering political assessments.

For too long, Qatar has wanted to hedge its bets. For too long, Doha has said one thing and done another. For too long, it has claimed it is the voice of reason while pursuing policies that are the irrational opposite of that notion.

At the heart of the dispute, said Dr Gargash, was the “support offered over the past 20 years by one of the world’s wealthiest countries to the cause of jihadism across the Middle East, and for specific individuals and organisations, including some linked to Al Qaeda. It is a crisis that is exasperated by our loss of trust in Qatar, after it repeatedly broke its word to us. It has spent effort and money trying not to help us, as allies should, but to undermine us and destabilise various countries … This effort is reckless and will bring no benefit to Qatar. We want it to end.”

Dr Gargash’s speech was long on examples of the malignant nature of Islamist and jihadist extremism that Qatar has supported and short on the empty rhetoric favoured by his counterpart. It also offered a way out for Doha.

To come back to the fold, to be welcomed as a functioning member of the GCC, Qatar must shut down state support for extremism, jihadism and terrorism. But it is too late to merely say it will do this – too often in the past, Doha has said one thing and done another. Trust has not just been broken, it has been shattered.

To end the regional crisis and to restore faith, Doha must commit to a more transparent future. It must commit to its activities being overseen and monitored. Relations can be restored, but only if Qatar follows the right path.

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