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Qatar accuses Saudi Arabia of forcing it to surrender sovereignty

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Patrick Wintour

Qatar’s neighbours have described its response to a list of demands as not serious and said they will continue their blockade of the tiny, wealthy emirate, as the bitter diplomatic row in the Gulf saw no sign of abating.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut off ties with Qatar on 5 June, accusing it of supporting terrorism. On 22 June they issued a 13-point list of demands – including ending support for the Muslim Brotherhood and closing broadcaster al-Jazeera – to end the standoff and gave Qatar 10 days to comply.

That deadline was extended by 48 hours on Sunday, when Qatar sent a letter to Kuwaiti mediators effectively refusing to engage with the demands.

Speaking after a meeting in Cairo on Wednesday of the foreign ministers from the four blockading nations, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said Qatar’s response “was overall negative and lacked any content”.

Qatar lacked “understanding of the seriousness and gravity of the situation”, Shoukry said, reading from a joint statement.

Existing sanctions, including a land and air blockade, would remain in place, the statement said, and further measures would be taken at the appropriate time.
However, the Saudi-led coalition held back from an immediate escalation of the dispute by declining to impose extra sanctions or expel Qatar from the six-member Gulf cooperation council.

Some Gulf diplomats had spoken of disinvestment from Qatar, or sanctions on pro-Qatar third parties.

The decision not to respond immediately with fresh measures may reflect pressure from western capitals to ease the dispute, and the effectiveness of Qatar’s campaign to present itself as an innocent victim of an attempt to meddle with its foreign policy.

In perhaps a decisive intervention, Donald Trump spoke with the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi on Wednesday, “urging all parties to negotiate constructively to resolve the dispute”.

According to the White House, the US president “reiterated the need for all countries to follow through on their commitments at the Riyadh summit to stop terrorist financing and discredit extremist ideology”. The tone was more balanced than Trump’s previous statements, which had offered unbridled support for the Saudis.

The US has more than 10,000 troops stationed in Qatar, and can ill afford a military conflict between its Gulf allies, as it seeks to build unity against Iran.

Many western capitals have been warning Saudi not to push the dispute to a level that ends up with Qatar forced into the hands of Iran.

The Cairo decision leaves the dispute frozen, with Qatar insisting it can survive the boycott, but increasingly dependent on Iran and Turkey for military and economic support. The political and economic boycott will continue until Qatar changes its policies for the better, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a news conference.

Saudi Arabia insisted any measures it takes will be in compliance with international law, an issue that may come more important if the dispute ends up being referred to the UN security council. The Saudi-led states say they are mounting a boycott, and not a blockade, arguing Qatar’s planes can fly out of Doha to the East, and still reach destinations such as London.

Earlier on Wednesday the Qatar foreign minister insisted his country will not accept any plan that breaches international law or interferes with its sovereignty.

Speaking at Chatham House in London, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani accused Saudi Arabia and its allies of “demanding that we must surrender our sovereignty as the price for ending the siege”.

His country was prepared for a long battle, he said, adding: “What we’ve done in the last few weeks is develop different alternative for ways to ensure the supply chain for the country not to be cut off.”

“Even if the blockade is lifted, we have to rely on ourselves and ensure we deliver a World Cup that is attractive to the world,” he said. Qatar is due to host the World Cup in 2022.

Responding to accusations that it was now too close to Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran, he said Doha had to live alongside Tehran since the two states shared a gas field.

He also insisted the other Gulf states had no powers to eject Qatar from the Gulf Co-operation Council, a trade and security bloc, arguing decisions can only be taken by the GCC by consensus, implying Kuwait and Oman would not endorse the punishment.

Al-Thani described the Saudi demands as “not reasonable or actionable”, adding “the blockade was extraordinary, unprovoked and hostile”.

Presenting Qatar as a modern state open to dialogue, compared with the neighbouring regimes, he said: “We believe that this entire campaign is merely driven by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and these are the countries that we need to engage to find out what are the real problems and what are the real grievances.”

The demand, he said, would mean “Qatar was asked to curtail free expression, hand individual people over to torture, reduce its defence capabilities, go against international law, outsource its foreign policy to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, literally sign an open cheque to the blockading countries to pay an unlimited amount of money described as compensation”.

He continued: “The ultimatum did not only demand the shutting down of Al Jazeera, but outlets based here in the UK that provide a free press for the people of the Middle East.

“Reading between the lines the blockading countries were demanding we must end our sovereignty as the price for the ending of the siege something they knew Qatar would never do.”

Ethiopia

Ethiopia scores Qatari praise for security in Horn of Africa region

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Qatar has lauded efforts of Ethiopia in maintaining peace in the Horn of Africa region. The applause from Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was during a meeting with Ethiopian premier Hailemarian Desalegn.

The state-affiliated FBC reports that the two leaders spoke on areas of strengthening security, investments and diplomatic ties. The Emir is said to have lauded Ethiopia as a strategic partner and one key to peace in the Horn of Africa region.

Desalegn is in Doha on an official visit reciprocating a similar one earlier this year by the Emir to Addis Ababa.

Another Ethiopian state outlet, ENA, reported about diplomatic agreements signed by both countries in the area of visa waivers.

“Foreign Minister Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman signed the agreement providing for waiver of visa requirements for holders of diplomatic and official passports.

“Finance and Economic Cooperation Minister Dr. Abraham Tekeste and Qatari Economy and Trade Minister Ahmed Bin Jassim signed the protection of investment agreement,” ENA reported.

On the issue of the Gulf crisis, Ethiopia reiterated its stance with the Kuwaiti move to resolve the dispute through dialogue. Unlike Djibouti and Eritrea who took sides in the crisis, Ethiopia and Somalia maintained a neutral stance and backed calls for dialogue.

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Middle East

Saudi ‘freezes bank accounts’ of Mohammed bin Nayef

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Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s ex-crown prince who was ousted as next in line to the throne in June, has reportedly become the latest royal family member to be targeted in the kingdom’s expanding anti-corruption crackdown.

According to Reuters news agency and the Wall Street Journal, bank accounts linked to Mohammed bin Nayef and to some of his immediate relatives were frozen by Saudi authorities.

Both reports on Wednesday cited sources “familiar with the matter”. The Reuters report was also carried by Saudi state-owned media.

The freezing of Mohammed bin Nayef’s accounts came as Saudi authorities launched a new arrest campaign as part of the widening purge that began on Saturday, according to Reuters.

Dozens of royals, government officials and influential entrepreneurs have already been detained, facing, a number of allegations, including money laundering and bribery.
Among those held are 11 princes, four ministers and several former ministers, in what is seen as an unprecedented crackdown that has shaken the kingdom.

Meanwhile, the number of domestic bank accounts frozen as a result of the purge is more than 1,700 and increasing, according to the reports.

High-profile detentions

The steps were the latest in a series of policies widely seen as an effort by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to assert power over the country and its political and business elite.

On Saturday, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced that his son, the crown prince, would oversee a newly formed anti-graft commission that would purge the country of corruption.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman who owns investment firm Kingdom Holding was among those held. The list of detainees also included senior ministers who were recently sacked, such as Prince Mitaab bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard, and Adel Faqih, the economy minister.

Mohammed bin Salman replaced his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, as the kingdom’s crown prince in June.

Mohammed bin Nayef made his first confirmed public appearance since his ousting at the funeral on Tuesday for Prince Mansour bin Muqrin Al Saud, deputy governor of Asir province, according to Saudi media.

Mansour bin Muqrin died in a helicopter crash on Sunday. No cause has been given for the crash.

‘Rights concerns’

On Wednesday, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statementthe “mass arrests” carried out by Saudi Arabia raises human rights concerns.

“The middle-of-the-night simultaneous establishment of a new corruption body and mass arrests over corruption raise concerns that Saudi authorities detained people en masse and without outlining the basis of the detentions,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, said.

“While Saudi media are framing these measures as Mohammad bin Salman’s move against corruption, the mass arrests suggest this may be more about internal power politics,” she added.

The rights group noted that arbitrary detention is in contravention of international human rights law, and demanded those arrested be informed of the “specific grounds for their arrest” and ” be able to fairly contest their detention before an independent and impartial judge”.

“Saudi authorities have not disclosed the specific reasons for the detention of the dozens of other people since mid-September. But the detentions fit a pattern of human rights violations against peaceful advocates and dissidents, including harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns, travel bans, detention, and prosecution,” its statement added.

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Middle East

Saudi Arabia purge widens with ‘arrest, no-fly list’

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Saudi Arabia’s anti-corruption purge has widened after one of the country’s top businessmen was reportedly detained, accounts were frozen and a no-fly list was drawn up.

On Monday, Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, a board member of Saudi Arabia’s biggest travel company, was reportedly added to the list of detainees, which already included some of the country’s most influential officials and entrepreneurs.

Among those detained are 11 princes, four ministers and several former ministers, in what is seen as an unprecedented crackdown that has shaken the kingdom.

The dramatic steps were the latest in a series of measures by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to assert power over the country and its previous leaders.

On Saturday, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced that his son, the crown prince, would oversee a newly formed anti-graft commission that would purge the country of corruption.
In a statement via the Saudi Center for International Communication, Khalid bin Abdulmohsen Al-Mehaisen, president of the anti-corruption commission, said: “The evidence of transgressions and financial mismanagement uncovered recently points to widespread corruption in a number of cases.

“The responsibility of the new anti-corruption committee is to ensure that investigations into those cases are completed, and that the full force of the law is applied,” Mehaisen said.

Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said that the purge was only “phase one” and that detainees had been questioned.

“Yesterday [Saturday] does not represent the start, but the completion of Phase One of our anti-corruption push,” Mojeb said, adding that investigations were done discreetly “in order to preserve the integrity of the legal proceedings and ensure there was no flight from justice”.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman who owns investment firm Kingdom Holding was among those held, according to Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed senior official.

The list of detainees also included senior ministers who were recently sacked, such as Prince Mitaab bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard, and Adel Faqih, the economy minister.

‘No-fly list’

On Monday, stock in Al Tayyar Travel was down 10 percent in the opening minutes at Saudi Arabia’s stock index after media reported the detention of Tayyar.

Meanwhile, Saudi banks reportedly started freezing bank accounts of the suspects.

“The committee has the authority to reveal the bank details of the accused, freeze their assets and funds, and take other appropriate measures,” anti-corruption commission president, Mehaisen, said.

“However, it will ensure that no wrongdoer is able to escape punishment, regardless of their position and status, while at the same time doing everything to protect the innocent. As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has stated clearly, no one is above the law, and no one who is proven to have indulged in corruption will escape, not even a prince or a minister.”

Pan-Arab daily Al-Asharq Al-Awsat reported that a no-fly list has been issued and that security forces in several Saudi airports were ordered to bar private jets owners from taking off without a permit.

“Security members were seen in the lounges of private jets to monitor the situation and to make sure that no plane leaves the kingdom without a permit,” the newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources, adding that security personnel were given a list of specific names of individuals who should be prevented from leaving.

The shake-up of the Saudi government comes just months after King Salman replaced his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef with his son Mohammed as the kingdom’s crown prince.

Mohammed bin Salman has been responsible for pushing through a number of changes both at home and abroad since he became first in line to the Saudi crown.

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