x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 November 2017

Qatar opposition exiles and activists voice their concerns at London conference

A leading member of the Al Marrah tribe spoke out about the oppression he has suffered under the reign of the current emir Sheikh Tamim, and his retired father

Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamed bin Jellab Al Marrah, who says his tribe has faced persecution by the Qatari government, speaks during the Global Security and Stability Conference at the Intercontinental Hotel in London’s Docklands. Courtesy Qatar Affairs
Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamed bin Jellab Al Marrah, who says his tribe has faced persecution by the Qatari government, speaks during the Global Security and Stability Conference at the Intercontinental Hotel in London’s Docklands. Courtesy Qatar Affairs

London // Qatar opposition activists showcased their calls for the country to change direction to former British and American cabinet ministers, leading security officials and top BBC names at a conference in London.

A leading member of the Al Marrah tribe, which straddles the border between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, emerged as the keynote panellist at the Qatar, Global Security and Stability Conference at the Intercontinental Hotel in London’s Docklands.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamed bin Jellab Al Marrah is cousin of the paramount leader of the tribe and spoke out about the oppression he has suffered under the reign of the current emir Sheikh Tamim, and his retired father.

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“We call on all the countries like this one, the home of democracy, to put an end to our suffering,” the exiled dissident said. “In 2008 all my family were rounded up, in 2011 a whole village of 6000 was forced to flee their homes and now just yesterday the head of my tribe has been deprived of his nationality.

Khaled Al Hail, the activist who organised the conference to give a voice to Qataris critical of the leadership, which has been accused by the Arab Quartet of nations of supporting terror and promoting extremism. He said he had gained backing across a broad spectrum.

“The support we have received from some of the most respected and high-profile commentators on the Middle East, world affairs and the media demonstrates the level of concern there is inside and outside Qatar about the current direction of the leadership of the country.”

Among the attendees and speakers at the event was Bill Richardson, the ex-US energy secretary and ambassador to the UN, Iain Duncan Smith, the former UK work and pensions minister and leader of the Conservatives, Paddy Ashdown, the EU former high representative in Bosnia as well as retired generals and intelligence chiefs. The BBC’s John Simpson praised the conference during a panel session he chaired.

Frustration at the web of Qatari alliances with terror groups in Syria and elsewhere was the running theme for former Western officials. Speakers also expressed frustration with its closeness to Iran and Turkey, which has splintered the close ties among Gulf states. “Why is Qatar using its gas wealth to finance terrorism, to finance Hamas and a lot of these groups? This support is coming from our friends in Qatar and it is wrong,” said Mr Richardson. “Is there a roadmap for Qatar to move in right direction? Yes, they have to condition these relations like those they have with Iran and Hamas into doing good for the Gulf’s proper regional relationships.”

The head of the Qatari branch of Al Marrah tribe, Sheikh Taleb bin Lahem bin Shraim, revealed Doha had stripped him of his citizenship along with 54 of his relatives. The group fled to Saudi Arabia to take sanctuary.

Sheikh Taleb blamed the former emir of Qatar, who many think is still in control of the country despite abdicating the throne in 2013. “Hamad bin Khalifa has no right, nor do I owe him anything to be paid in regard to my nationality, I was granted my citizenship from Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah,” he said, referring to the ruler of Qatar before independence in 1960.

“The reason it got revoked was because we refused to insult the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s National Society for Human Rights, NSHR, has called the move a violation of the 55 former Qatari citizens’ civil rights and added that among those affected are 18 children and many women.

Alan Mendoza, the head of the Henry Jackson Society think tank, questioned if the ruling emir’s actions were leading Qatar to “a tipping point”.

“How is it possible that Qatar is supporting Al Nusra and other extremists? Qatar uses its economic power to silence it critics but we live in a world which isn’t so easily constrained by what governments want us to do. Brave Qataris are speaking up.”

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain formed a quartet of nations that severed ties with Qatar in June and have pledged to work with mediators to secure changes in the country’s policies.

Talks with Qatar were suspended by Saudi Arabia on Saturday as Doha was accused of issuing "false reports", just after the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim, called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a dialogue to resolve the dispute.