In what is being viewed as the worst diplomatic crisis in the Middle East since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Qatar has been given a further 48 hours to comply with a list of demands – including closing down major news network Al Jazeera – from four neighboring Arab states that have cut ties to the country.
The closure of Al Jazeera, the region’s most high-profile network, is just one of a list of 13 demands that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates issued Qatar on June 22 after accusing the country of supporting terrorism. Qatar was given 10 days to comply with the demands but as Sunday’s deadline passed, the Gulf neighbors have given the country until Tuesday to respond.
Last month, the four countries severed their diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed their airspace to the country’s Qatar Airways after asserting that Qatar funds terrorism, an accusation the country steadfastly denies. The four nations also initiated an economic blockade, thereby isolating the small, but oil- and gas-rich nation’s border from Saudi Arabia, its only land link to the rest of the world for imports. Since then, Turkey has increased its military presence in Qatar in support of the country and both it and Iran have delivered food supplies to the nation.
The list of demands put forward to restore relations includes shutting down Al Jazeera and its affiliate stations on the basis that it provides a voice to extremist political organizations as well as requests to sever ties with Iran, with which it shares a huge offshore gas field. Further demands insist that Qatar cut ties with all “terrorist organizations,” including the Muslim Brotherhood and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Qatar has since rejected the demands as violations of its sovereignty, labeling them an “affront to international law.” On Saturday, the emirate’s foreign minister said that Qatar would not meet any of the 13 demands and that the list “was meant to be rejected,” pointing to the 10-day expiration date.
“Everyone is aware that these demands are meant to infringe the sovereignty of the state of Qatar, shut the freedom of speech and impose auditing and probation mechanism for Qatar,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani at a press conference in Rome. “We believe that the world is not governed by ultimatums, we believe that the world is governed by the international law, it is governed by an order that does not allow large countries to bully small countries.”
Al Jazeera, a Doha-funded broadcaster, has also condemned the demands and has said they are “nothing but an attempt to silence the freedom of expression in the region.” Last month, the network said “We assert our right to practice our journalism professionally without bowing to pressure from any government or authority.”
The U.S., which has 10,000 troops stationed in Qatar in its main Middle East base, has sought to end the crisis with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging for a dialogue between the two sides. He said the demands stressed that there were “significant areas which provide a basis for ongoing dialogue leading to resolution” and has urged the countries to sit together to counter extremism.
Since the crisis kicked off at the beginning of June, President Donald Trump has made comments seemingly supporting Qatar’s isolation.