The Qatari-owned Al Jazeera news broadcaster retaliated on Friday at reported demands by four Arab countries to close it down, calling them “nothing but an attempt to silence the freedom of expression in the region.”
Following U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s insistence earlier this week that Qatar’s neighbors provide demands that are “reasonable and actionable” and call on Mideast countries to ease blockade on Qatar, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have tabled 13 demands on Qatar, including the closure of the Qatar-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera, as the price for lifting a two-week trade and diplomatic embargo off the country, Reuters reported.
The network has been accused of giving voice to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been designated a terrorist organization in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have sent a 13-point list of demands apparently aimed at dismantling their tiny but wealthy neighbor’s two-decade-old interventionist foreign policy, which has angered them for some time now. Reuters was citing an official from one of the four countries.
Qatar has been forging an independent foreign policy since the discovery of gas and a palace coup, where the former emir ousted his pro-Saudi leaning father. Since 1995, the country has been on a tear with a construction boom that has reshaped the desert state. While Qataris are the world’s richest per capita ($130,000), more than 35 percent live under the national poverty line in neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The Arab nations cut ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the region. But Qatar rejects those accusations and says it is being punished for straying from its neighbors’ backing for authoritarian hereditary and military rulers.
The three-week-old blockade has seen the closure of borders and airspace, as well as a shortage of some produce in supermarkets. However, Iran and Turkey have airlifted various basic goods into the country.
Some of the key demands made by these nations are as follows.
- Shut down the Al Jazeera media network and its affiliates
- Terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar
- Curb diplomatic ties with Iran
- Cut ties to “terrorist organisations”
- Pay compensation for loss of life and other financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies
- Stop interfering in the four nations’ internal affairs
- Stop the practice of giving Qatari nationality to citizens of the four countries
Turkey’s Defense Minister Fikri Isik said his country had no plans to review its military base in Qatar and that any demand for its closure would represent interference in the country’s relations with the Gulf state. He said that he had not yet seen a demand for the base to be shut.
“The base in Qatar is both a Turkish base and one that will preserve the security of Qatar and the region,” Isik said in an interview on Friday. “Re-evaluating the base agreement with Qatar is not on our agenda.”
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra said the list is “definitely going to be rejected by Qatar.”
“Qatar has said it will only look into the demands once the sanctions are lifted,” he said, adding that Qatar had already said that closing Al Jazeera was off the table.
Counter-challenging the specific demand on Al Jazeera, the news broadcaster said, “We assert our right to practice our journalism professionally without bowing to pressure from any government or authority and we demand that governments respect the freedom of media to allow journalists to continue to do their jobs free of intimidation, threats, and fear-mongering.”
Qatar did not immediately comment, but Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani had said on Monday that Qatar would not negotiate with the four states until economic, diplomatic and travel ties cut this month were restored.
An official from one of the four nations, who gave details of the demands on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the offer would be “void” unless Qatar complied within 10 days. However, no actionable has been mentioned if Qatar fails to toe the line.
The list of demands was presented to Qatar by Kuwait, who is trying to act as an intermediary between the two parties. The demand also says that Qatar’s steps in this regard will be monitored and involve monthly reports in the first year, then every three months the next year, then annually for 10 years, the official reportedly said.
[Featured Image by Malak Harb/AP Images]