Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Editorial | No to bullying of Qatar

Published:Tuesday | June 27, 2017 | 12:00 AM

It may seem distant and the issues complex, but Jamaica has good reasons to pay attention to the row, led by Saudi Arabia, between Qatar and some of its Gulf neighbours.

Not least of why we should have an interest is that more than a handful of Jamaicans live in Doha, the Qatari capital. They are mostly airline pilots. They started to emigrate in the 1990s when Qatar Airways came poaching, and more followed in the 2000s with the demise of Air Jamaica. Jamaican engineers and other professionals also work in Qatar's natural-gas sector and other industries.

So, should the security situation in Qatar worsen, the Holness administration, which is yet to publicly signal its awareness of the problem, has a responsibility to, as much as it can, ensure the safety of our citizens in that country.

But there is a larger issue at play in Qatar in which a small country like Jamaica ought to be deeply invested: the matter of sovereignty.

While on purchasing power parity (PPP), Qataris are the richest people in the world, with GDP per head of more than US$141,000, their population - half of whom are migrants - is approximately the size of Jamaica's. More critically, the number of people living in Qatar is only nine per cent of the population of Saudi Arabia, its powerful Sunni Muslim neighbour that is in competition for regional supremacy with Shi'ite Iran.

Like Saudi Arabia and its partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar is a monarchy, ruled by the Al Thani family. But Qatar has operated a foreign policy independent of its Gulf partners, a difference that erupted a fortnight ago when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed an economic and political blockade against the Qataris, accusing Doha of supporting and financing terrorist organisations.

The issues, though, are not straightforward. The Qataris, for instance, support Islamist political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Mohamed Morsi became Egypt's first democratically elected leader when Hosni Mubarak fell at the height of the Arab Spring, only to be overthrown in 2013 by Egypt's current leader, the former army general, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Doha, however, insists that though Islamist, these groups are not terror organisations. It also rejects accusations that it funds, or has any relationship with, al-Qaeda or ISIS.

Another twist in these complexities is Doha's belief that it could be a kind of honest broker in its neighbourhood, hence its recent embrace of Iran and its deepening relations with Turkey, which it allowed to establish a military base on Qatari territory, much to the chagrin of its GCC partners.

Matters are further complicated by the presence of the Qatar-funded Al Jazeera news network, which, while gaining growing international respect for its news reporting, is seen by the autocratic Gulf monarchies and Egypt as a Qatari foreign-policy instrument trained on their regimes, with the aim of inciting another Arab Spring.

It is not surprising that among the demands of the quartet to lift their blockade is the dismantling of Al Jazeera. They also insist that Qatar close the Turkish base, severely pare down its diplomatic relations with Iran, end its alleged support for terrorist organisations, and pay reparations for the loss of life and financial losses because of Qatari policies in recent years. Doha's compliance with the demands would be monitored over the next dozen years. This is not quite Russia and Prussia's 18th-century partitions of Poland, which the Poles were humiliatingly forced to endorse, but it is tantamount to an expropriation of sovereignty, for which no small country can countenance lest it set itself up to be the next victim.

Or as Qatar's foreign minister, Sheik Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, argued, this appears to have "nothing to do with combating terrorism [but] limiting Qatar's sovereignty and outsourcing foreign policy".