The crisis in the Gulf shows little sign of resolution.
What has happened?
Last month, Several Arab countries announced they were breaking diplomatic ties with Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut off ties with Qatar on 5 June, later the internationally recognised Yemeni government and Libya’s eastern-based government – which has little authority – followed suit. The Maldives then announced it too was cutting ties.
Saudi Arabia said it would close borders, severing land, sea and air contact with the tiny peninsula. The Saudis, the UAE and Bahrain have given Qataris two weeks to leave, and only 48 hours for its diplomats to quit.
Saudi Arabia said it took the decision because of Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region”, including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, Islamic State and groups supported by Iran.
What happened next?
23 June, the Arab states issued a list of 13 demands for Qatar to comply with if they wished to end the blockade. These were:
- Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
- Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
- Shut down al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
- Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
- Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
- Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.
- Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
- End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
- Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
- Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
- Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
- Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
- Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.
That deadline was extended by 48 hours on Sunday, when Qatar sent a letter to Kuwaiti mediators effectively refusing to engage with the demands.
The Qatar foreign minister said his country would 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”.
Thani described the Saudi demands as “not reasonable or actionable”, adding “the blockade was extraordinary, unprovoked and hostile”.
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.”
The Blockade’s Response
The four Arab states leading the boycott said late on 6 July that Doha’s refusal of their demands was proof of its links to terrorist groups and that they would enact new measures against it.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain released a joint statement carried by their state media saying their initial list of 13 demands was now void and pledging new political, economic and legal steps against Qatar.
Qatar’s stance “reflects its intention to continue its policy, aimed at destabilising security in the region”, their statement said. “All political, economic and legal measures will be taken in the manner and at the time deemed appropriate to preserve the four countries’ rights, security and stability.”
As of Tuesday 27 June, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group has ordered shopkeepers and traders to price goods in its currency, the dirham, with the group setting the value at 1,000 Syrian pounds (1.41 pounds) per dirham, as it seeks to steer its own monetary police even as it is in the midst of loosing territory. IS declared the launch of its own currency in 2015.
The announcement, which was circulated in an audio statement on IS-run messaging platforms, disclosed that two Syrian banknotes – the 1,000 pound note and the 50 pound note – would be banned in the areas that the group controls as of 25 July. While the IS decree made no mention of a ban on the 500 Syrian pound notes, it did disclose that exchange rates for the IS currency would be declared on a daily basis.
In recent months, the militant group has been loosing swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria. It is currently under siege in its defacto Syrian capital Raqqa, as US-backed forces press an assault to capture the city. IS is also on the brink of defeat in the city of Mosul, in Iraq. The group is now believed to have moved its leadership to the Syrian town of al-Mayadeen, southeast of Raqqa, and close to the Iraqi border in Deir al-Zor province.
On Monday 26 June, US President Donald Trump welcomed a Supreme Court ruling that effectively allows his travel ban to be partly reinstated as a “victory for our national security.” America’s highest court also granted a White House request allowing part of its refugee ban to go into effect, with the justices indicating that they would consider in October whether the president’s policy should be upheld or struck down.
President Trump is seeking to put in place a 90-day ban on people from six mainly Muslim nations and a 120-day ban on refugees. The president on Monday welcomed the ruling’s qualified authorisation to bar visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, which he described as “terror-prone countries.” He has stated that the ban would take effect within 72 hours of court approval.
In its decision on Monday, the Supreme Court stated that “in practical terms, this means that (the executive order) may not b enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” adding “all other foreign nationals are subject to the provisions of (the executive order).” The ruling further stated that it would permit a 120-day ban on all refugees entering the US to go into effect, effectively allowing the US government to bar entry to refuge claimants who do not have any “bona fide relationship” with an American individual or entity. The ruling clarifies that those who would be deemed to have such a relationship would include a foreign national who wishes to enter the US to live with or visit a family member, a student at an American university, an employee of a US company, or a lecturer invited to address an American audience. It notes that this would not apply to “someone who enters into a relationship simply to avoid (the executive order)…For example, a non-profit group devoted to immigration issues may not contact foreign nationals from the designated countries, add them to client lists, and then secure their entry by claiming injury from their exclusion.”
There were several divisions in the court, with three of the court’s conservative justices – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – wrote that they would have allowed the travel ban to go into full effect. Justice Thomas noted that the government’s interest in preserving national security outweighs any hardship to people denied entry into the country. President Trump restored a 5 – 4 conservative majority to the Supreme Court when his nominee, Justice Gorsuch, joined its bench in April. There are five Republican appointees on th court and four Democratic Appointees.
President Trump has insisted that the ban is necessary for national security amidst a number of terrorist attacks that have occurred in Paris, London, Brussels, Berlin and other cities. Critics however have called the policy un-American and Islamophobic, with US lower courts broadly seeming to agree with this view. The president’s policy was left in limbo after it was struck down by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland just days following its issuance on 6 March. In May, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia disclosed that the ban was “rooted in religious animus” towards Muslims, while the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated earlier this month that “national security is not a ‘talismanic incantation’ that, once invoked, can support any and all exercise of executive power.”
The original ban, which was released on 27 January, provoked mass protests at airports in the US. The initial ban included Iraq amongst countries whose travellers would be barred from the US. It also imposed a full ban on refugees from Syria. On 6 March, President Trump issued a revised version with a narrower scope to overcome some of the legal problems, however he seemed unhappy about having to do so, calling it a “watered down, politically correct” version of the first ban.
US President Donald Trump’s trip to Poland later on this week may feel like a diplomatic coup for the right-wing government, however western European countries are increasingly becoming uneasy that it will further encourage Warsaw’s defiance towards Brussels.
President Trump will visit Poland on 6 July for one day – en route to a G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. During his visit to Poland, he will take part in a gathering of leaders from central Europe, Baltic states and the Balkans. The event, which has now been moved to Warsaw because of the US leader’s visit, was convened by Poland in a bid to bolster regional trade and infrastructure. The gathering has been dubbed the Three Seas summit because the countries involved border the Baltic, Black and Adriatic seas. According to his top economic adviser, President Trump is planning to promote US natural gas exports to the leaders from Central and Eastern Europe, a region that has heavily relied on Russian supplies. Earlier this month, Poland received its first shipment of US liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Most diplomats in Brussels have dismissed the importance of the Three Seas project, which is being co-hosted by Croatia. They are also wary over President Trump’s high-profile visit to participate in a project that one senior EU official called Poland’s push towards “self-ghettoization.” Another EU diplomat stated about the Three Seas project that “one cannot but feel a bit suspicious if it isn’t an attempt to break up European unity.” Furthermore diplomats in Brussels view the visit a Poland’s bid to carve out influence outside the European Union (EU), with which the nationalist government has repeatedly clashed.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has played a major role in fuelling a deepening rift between former communist and Western members of the EU. The rift comes at a time as the EU is struggling with the aftermath of Britain’s decision to leave the bloc. Since the party won a parliamentary election in 2015, it has angered France over a cancelled army procurement deal and brought relations with Germany to their worth in nearly a decade. It is now facing EU action over what critics have called its authoritarian tilt. Poland has also been one of the leading voices in the region against migration, a view that it shares with President Trump along with a disregard for climate change and suspicion of international bodies.
According to sources familiar with the mater, late last month Italy appealed to the European Union (EU) for help in taking in African migrants, announcing the possibility of closing its ports to humanitarian rescue ships in a bid to pressure EU partners.
An Italian government source has disclosed that Rome’s EU ambassador, Maurizio Massari, met with EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and told him that “the situation we are facing is serious and Europe cannot turn its back.” Meanwhile another Italian government source has stated that “the idea of blocking humanitarian ships flying foreign flags from returning to Italian ports has been discussed, with the source adding that the move may force EU partners to take them instead because many of the charities that operate rescue ships are based in other EU countries, including Germany and Malta. The source noted that “Italy has reached saturation point,” adding that Rome had planned for 200,00 beds for asylum-seekers and that those were almost all taken.
Since 2014, Italy has brought in over half a million boat migrants, with a record 181,000 arriving in the country last year. This year, arrivals are already up by about 14 percent on the same period last year to 75,000. Italy has been the main point of arrival for mostly African migrants to European shores this year, with more boats being sent out on an almost daily basis. All of those rescued off the coast of Libya have been brought o Italy, often by private charities. Meanwhile Italy’s neighbours have closed their own borders in a bid to try to keep migrants from moving north as they did in the past. Furthermore, some EU countries, like Hungary and Poland, have fully refused to host some asylum-seekers to east the burden on Italy and Greece, which is another frontline country.
Frustrations are growing throughout Italy with the migration situation. Late last month, voters punished Italy’s ruling Democratic Party in local elections, opting instead for centre-right rivals led by the anti-immigrant Northern League and four-time former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, all of whom want Italy to take a tougher stance on migration. While for the past two years EU members have not been able to find an accord about moving asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece, late last month the bloc’s 28 leaders agreed that the two southern states should get more help in order to manage arrivals. According to an EU official, the bloc’s European Commission will now give more emergency funding to Italy, adding that it wants EU states to put up more money to assist African countries in the hopes that better conditions at home will keep people from leaving. According to an official, this week at a meeting in Tallin, EU migration ministers are due to discuss Rome’s request to have EU peers let some of the boats arriving with migrants disembark in their ports.
According to Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Rome, since Saturday 24 June some 11,000 migrants have been pulled from unsafe and overcrowded boats, noting however that the overall numbers for the month of June are in line with last year and the year before. On Wednesday 28 June, an Italian navy boat brought about 700 migrants to the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, including an infant boy who was born on a migrant boat but who died from respiratory problems after he and his mother were rescued.