The Al Jazeera Media Network logo is seen on its headquarters building in Doha, Qatar June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon - RTX39N4R
The headquarters of Al Jazeera in Doha © Reuters

Arab states that have imposed a regional embargo on Qatar have given the Gulf nation 10 days to comply with a series of extraordinary demands that include paying reparations and shutting down Al Jazeera, Doha’s flagship satellite television network. 

The 13-point list, obtained by the Financial Times, also insists that Qatar curb its relations with Iran, close a Turkish military base and halt all military co-operation with Ankara before the embargo is lifted.

The list was delivered nearly three weeks after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic relations with Doha and cut land, sea and air links to the country, alleging Qatar sponsors terrorism. 

The spat has triggered the worst diplomatic crisis among Gulf nations since Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 and pits important US allies against each other.

Analysts said the demands put forward by the Arab states were unrealistic and risked prolonging the crisis. 

“Either this is a lot of a bravado and parties aren’t serious about a deal or this merely is rhetorical heat before negotiations truly begin,” said Andrew Bowen, a Saudi expert at the American Enterprise Institute, adding that the demands looked more like a list of grievances than a realistic starting point. “Doha is unlikely to accept anywhere near these demands.”

Bruce Riedel, who worked on regional issues for the CIA before moving to the Brookings Institution, said the demands were “intended to reduce Qatar to be a puppet of Saudi Arabia, a satellite”.

The demand for reparations to the four countries that initiated the boycott was described as compensation for Qatar’s policies in the region, although there is no detail about how the payments might work in practice. The Saudis and its embargo partners have accused Doha of providing financing to al-Qaeda affiliates in the region and maintaining ties to Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbollah and Hamas.

The list includes an insistence that Qatar — long considered by its neighbours to be a geopolitical maverick — align itself “militarily, politically, socially, economically” with other Gulf and Arab states and cut ties with the Islamist groups.

Qatar, which hosts the main US military base in the Middle East and is the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, has repeatedly denied that it supports or finances terrorism.

Doha has already said any demand to close Al Jazeera would be rejected, describing the channel as an “internal affair” linked to Qatar’s sovereignty that should not be the subject of international interference. Arab states have long complained Al Jazeera’s Arabic language channel is a propaganda tool that stokes regional tensions. Al Jazeera insists it has editorial independence. 

Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, cancelled a trip to Cancún in Mexico this week in an effort to mediate in the dispute. He urged the countries to deliver a list of conditions to Qatar, after growing exasperated with slow progress.

“It has to be reasonable and actionable,” state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said of the list of conditions. “If you’re going to ask Qatar to do something, and to do something differently, it has to be something that they are actually capable of doing.”

The state department which did not respond to questions asking whether it has seen the demands, urged restraint. “‎We encourage all parties to exercise restraint to allow for productive, diplomatic discussions.”

The list was handed to the Qatari government by Kuwait, which has served as the main intermediary in the dispute.

“These requirements must be met within 10 days from the date of delivery or they will be considered void,” the Arab states wrote. The document added that compliance would require heavy monitoring with reviews once a month for the first year, every three months the second year and once a year for the subsequent 10 years after that.

Doha has repeatedly said it was prepared to negotiate concessions if provided with a list of complaints but only if accompanied by evidence and so long as it did not risk Qatar’s independence.

“We are convinced this is nothing to do with fighting terrorism; they want to undermine our sovereignty,” Meshal bin Hamad al-Thani, Qatar’s ambassador to the US, told the FT this week. 

The blockade has hampered food and medical deliveries to Qatar and risks hindering its preparations for the 2022 football World Cup. The dispute comes at a time of rising tensions in the region, particularly between Saudi Arabia and its rival Iran.

Anwar Gargash, UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, accused Doha of leaking the demands, tweeting that it would “exasperate & prolong” the crisis.

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