In the foreseeable future, most worrisome for Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah is a “collapse of ethical thinking by the international community.” This opinion is based on Doha’s observation that the international community has begun employing varying standards to deal with world crises. He stated that Qatar has, and continues to warn against, “a crisis of conscience” on the international front.
In a comprehensive interview with Al-Hayat, in which he expressed his thoughts and his country’s stance vis-a-vis Arab and world crises, Attiyah further affirmed that “the fate of the Syrian crisis was clear from the beginning.” But, according to him, the most shocking surprise in said crisis was Hezbollah’s return to kill and displace those who welcomed it with open arms in July of 2006. He also denied that Doha was assisting the party, “for we are in disagreement with it.” The Qatari minister used the term “clarify” instead of “admonish” to describe his words to an Israeli official during the Munich Conference, when he said: “Hamas will stop killing and fighting you if you end the occupation;” indicating that he spoke of and characterized Hamas from Doha’s point of view.
In addition, Attiyah stressed the need to differentiate between the charges leveled by states against his country and those made by the press, considering that the majority of Western media attacks against Qatar were motivated by “politics and business,” as well as the intertwined commercial and political interests of “media moguls.” He also said that “Doha is Washington’s ally,” and categorically denied that it was warned by the United States to stop backing violent and extremist factions.
Attiyah opined that eliminating the Islamic State (IS) “cannot be achieved through airstrikes alone, but through addressing the root causes and a restoration of rights.” He rejected the accusations made against his country that it was using the Al Jazeera television channel as ammunition to pressure Arab states, and affirmed that the channel was independently managed. He added that viewers who do not approve of the channel’s content should switch to another channel and “are not obliged to watch.”
Attiyah refused to link Qatar’s support of Egypt with the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, and said, "Qatar does not back the Brotherhood." He continued to affirm that it stood with Egypt and backed it from the onset of the January 25 Revolution, when the military council ruled and Essam Sharaf formed a government, and that it “still is implementing the agreements signed with those governments.” He attributed the departure of Muslim Brotherhood members from Doha to “them feeling pressured by some Arab brothers; to the point that they requested to leave.” He pointed out that their families “remained our guests.”
Concerning the trial of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on charges of spying for Qatar and revealing sensitive information, Attiyah said: “I have nothing to say on that.”
Al-Hayat: The crisis in Syria has been ongoing for more than four years. All proposed solutions have failed, and the only success has been the barrel bombs launched by [President Bashar] al-Assad’s warplanes on innocent people, while IS continues to sever heads. Is this what the international community stands for?
Attiyah: Much has been said about the Syrian crisis, from its inception up to this day. All our warnings, to friends, allies and the international community, we see transpire today. This is what we warned against in Qatar, as did our brothers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The end result was clear. I frankly said, during the recent Munich Conference, that what we feared most in the coming year was a collapse of the international community’s sense of ethics — in other words, a crisis of conscience, leading to the international community employing varying standards to deal with world crises. Standards that raise awareness concerning crimes against humanity, while turning a blind eye to similar crimes elsewhere. Indications point to that occurring, which would be dangerous if it were to materialize.
Al-Hayat: Some in the press write that the Qatari foreign minister admonished a high-ranking Israeli official when he said: “Hamas will stop killing and fighting you if you end the occupation.” Those are words that you said during the Munich Conference, while Qatar is host to an Israeli Representation Office, and high-level Israeli officials visited your country. Is that not a political incongruity?
Attiyah: You, as professional journalists, are supposed to publish accurate information. The Israeli Representation Office was closed in 2008. That is clear. I do not admonish; on the contrary, I clarified the facts. I described Hamas from the Qatari point of view. That is not admonishment, but a clarification of existing facts.
The dispute with Lebanon’s Hezbollah
Al-Hayat: Concerning Hezbollah, Qatar has a clear stance vis-a-vis the Syrian crisis. But it also is helping Hezbollah resolve the hostages issue while the party continues to kill Syrian women and children.
Attiyah: I beg your pardon. Which hostage issue are we helping Hezbollah with?
Al-Hayat: Qatar has helped mediate with Islamist factions for the release of Lebanese hostages affiliated with Hezbollah.
Attiyah: This is not accurate. We did help our Lebanese brothers in matters relating to Lebanese nationals at the request of the Lebanese government. We’ve been trying to secure the release of active duty Lebanese soldiers. As far as we are concerned, and I have so stated on numerous occasions, Hezbollah was a resistance movement until its priorities changed and it interfered in Syria. In 2006, Syria welcomed and protected Hezbollah’s displaced, but, to our dismay, Hezbollah went back to Syria to kill and displace those who welcomed it. That is the gist of our dispute with the party.
Al-Hayat: Qatar’s role regarding terrorist organizations such as IS and Jabhat al-Nusra raises a lot of controversy. In public and behind the scenes comments, the Western media characterize Doha as playing on both sides of the fence to gain international clout. How do you respond to such contentions?
Attiyah: You alluded to the press. We must differentiate between two different matters: interstate affairs and whether those accusations were made by a particular state, or the press. I can assure you that no state made such accusations because they know the truth about Qatar, and Qatar knows how to deal with the international community and how to fulfill its obligations as an effective member of that community. Throughout our history, we have worked to advance world peace by impartially mediating in crisis-torn countries and countries with border disputes and humanitarian and disaster relief issues. We have worked on humanitarian issues from Japan to America and never imposed ourselves on countries suffering from humanitarian disasters. We work in the interest of humanity.
Back to the press. It is influenced by “business” and politics. A review of the press outlets that have launched strong attacks against Qatar, particularly in the West, indicates that they probably asked for, but were refused, Qatari help in remedying dire situations they were facing, such as donations, investments and bailouts from bankruptcy. Those media moguls thus confused their commercial interests with their political ones and attacked Qatar. But the truth of the matter is that Qatar is impervious to such campaigns, because we are clear, honest and have nothing to hide. Throughout our history, our policy has been upfront and open for all to see.
Al-Hayat: But Doha was warned by Washington to stop backing violent and extremist factions!
Attiyah: Absolutely not true. Qatar is Washington’s ally. And the United States is a strategic ally to Qatar in particular.
Al-Hayat: An international coalition has been formed to combat IS. But the organization is growing and expanding. What is your opinion on that matter?
Attiyah: The solution cannot be achieved through airstrikes alone. Qatar has said so, as have some of our brothers in the GCC. The solution can be reached through addressing the root causes. We now fear that marginalized factions be compelled to join IS. That is why the root causes must be addressed and rights restored.
Al-Hayat: Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood has led to three Gulf countries withdrawing their ambassadors from Doha, in addition to harming relations with Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Why this insistence on backing the Brotherhood?
Attiyah: You’re interested in listening to what you want to hear and not what you should hear. I don’t mean you personally. First of all, Qatar does not support the Muslim Brotherhood, full stop. If the matter of the Muslim Brotherhood is reviewed from an Egyptian standpoint, we notice that, recently, Qatar stood with and backed Egypt since its January 25 Revolution and the days of the military council, when Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi was in charge. We began helping our Egyptian brothers by backing the economy, in order to make the revolution a success on all levels. Then the interim government of Essam Sharaf was formed, and I personally signed a development and investment agreement with then Egyptian Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Abu al-Naga, which we continue to implement to this day. At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood had not yet entered the scene. Still, we continued to back our Egyptian brothers, for Egypt’s sake, because Qatar believes that a strong Egypt can only positively affect the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood then decided to field candidates and won the elections. It was neither I nor Qatar who voted for them, but the Egyptian people. A president from the Brotherhood’s ranks was then chosen, and we dealt with him and his government. Allow me to also add that even after the events that occurred in Egypt, we continued to offer support, as evidenced by the fact that, to this day, Qatar has investments in the Egyptian economy. In addition, during President Sisi’s rule, we exported five giant shipments of Qatari gas as a gift to the Egyptian people, under guidance from the prince.
Al-Hayat: Former Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi is being tried on charges of spying for Qatar and revealing sensitive information.
Attiyah: I have nothing to say on that, but we are facing a catastrophe if communicating with brotherly Arab countries is now considered espionage.
Al-Hayat: How many Muslim Brotherhood members were expelled from Qatar?
Attiyah: The use of the word “expelled” is not factual. Some Egyptians belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood or other factions asked to leave Qatar. They felt pressured by some, and spontaneously asked to leave, while noting that their families and children remain in school here where they are treated as guests living in their own country, and can leave and return at any time. Qatar is a welcoming brotherly state to all Arabs.
Al-Hayat: Is the relationship with Egypt still at an impasse, or are there efforts and steps being taken by Qatar and the Gulf states to restore relations with Cairo?
Attiyah: Allow me to give a simple example. As of last June 30, there were 130,000 Egyptians working in Qatar. Today, there are 200,000, which indicates that the relationship has not been affected.
Media ammunition against the Arabs
Al-Hayat: Does Qatar consider the Al Jazeera television channel ammunition that can be used to put pressure on Arab countries, either through the leveling of accusations or diversifying the fronts by which to attack states espousing policies that differ from its own or are hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood’s, its supreme guide and objectives?
Attiyah: Qatar does not need ammunition to use against anyone. Qatar has a vision relating to Arab cooperation, Arab unity and Arab well-being. Qatar has always been at the forefront of Arab projects, leading the charge in favor of any Arab consensual project that leads to Arab cohesion. We, therefore, do not need ammunition to use against other Arabs.
Al-Hayat: But Al Jazeera is funded by the Qatari government and is not independent.
Attiyah: Al Jazeera is a free media outlet like any other network, and its management is independent. Responsible Arab viewers who do not approve of the channel’s content should simply switch to another channel. You are not obliged to watch.
Al-Hayat: I was told that Khalid al-Attiyah watches Al-Arabiya and CNN channels more than Al Jazeera.
Attiyah: Khalid al-Attiyah watches all news channels, because each one gives a different perspective, and it is my responsibility to keep abreast of all the news.
Al-Hayat: Qatar is one of the biggest investor nations in Europe and America, and is now looking for a foothold elsewhere as well. Yet, it has not invested in its neighbor Bahrain, despite the fact that Qatari and Western banks are overflowing with your monies.
Attiyah: At the end of the day, we must differentiate between developmental and investment projects. In Qatar, our plan extends until 2030. Let us be realistic and unemotional. We are gradually moving away from complete reliance on oil and gas revenues toward a knowledge economy. If my vision is clear and my intent is to transition to a knowledge economy, then I shall invest anywhere in the world that allows me to attain that vision. A knowledge-based economy is the cornerstone, and if knowledge-based opportunities arise in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman or anywhere else, then I will seek to invest. And here I am talking from a purely investment-oriented mindset. In the end, I am the responsible party, I am the one with a vision and am responsible for attaining that vision and shall be held accountable if I fail to do so. These are issues that must remain unemotional.
The Gulf fabric does not tolerate disputes
Al-Hayat: Do you think that relations with the three nations (Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain) have returned to normal? Or do bad feelings still exist?
Attiyah: The challenges faced by the GCC are not based on feelings. What is happening in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya makes us all believe that reconciliation is a mere formality. No, the Gulf fabric does not allow the existence of even differences in points of view. I always used to say that and was met with criticism in the press. Some of my colleagues used to appear on air to say that Khalid al-Attiyah claims that there are no disputes but disagreements, because I was talking from the standpoint of the Gulf fabric of cooperation. Between me, you, Kuwait, the UAE, etc., we are all related, and such is the Gulf fabric.
Al-Hayat: Honestly, did you expect Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to withdraw their ambassadors? As far as you were concerned, was that even in the realm of possibilities?
Attiyah: This, of course, is now in the past. No Gulf country could have anticipated that. This issue is now behind us. Let us talk about the future instead.
Al-Hayat: Qatar chairs the current GCC session but has failed to accomplish anything of significance in alleviating the crises faced by countries of the region, and in bolstering security in the Gulf. Is this a sign of weakness?
Attiyah: Chairing the council does not mean unilateralism. It means making decisions after debating them, and adopting measures that protect the interests of all Gulf countries, as well as the region’s security and economy. Our decisions in the GCC are taken neither unilaterally nor emotionally. Qatar is performing, to the utmost, its role as president of the current session, and my thanks of course go to my brothers, the GCC countries’ foreign ministers, because they are helping us succeed in our role. We believe that each issue has its own particular circumstances, and the latest stance vis-a-vis Yemen was decisive and serious.
By the way, the GCC is serious in taking all measures needed to protect the interests and security of its member states. Furthermore, with regard to Yemen, we are serious.
Al-Hayat: Are inter-Gulf relations truly unhealthy? In what sense? There is talk about the existence of significant differences in points of view, and that fires still smolder under the ashes between some member states.
Attiyah: We consider differences in view as being healthy and normal. Without such differences, how can one reach viable decisions? Decisions need to be discussed and analyzed from all points of view. But let me put your mind at ease and say that relations among GCC countries are the healthiest anywhere, in the Middle East and beyond.
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