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UAE threatens Qatar with 'divorce' as under-fire nation accuses Gulf neighbours of bully tactics

The Independent logo The Independent 24/06/2017 Greg Wilford
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Qatar has accused its Gulf neighbours of trying to bully them into accepting economic and diplomatic demands after the UAE threatened it with "divorce".

The monarchy in Doha has faced calls to shut down the Al Jazeera television network, pay reparations and cut ties with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood after Donald Trump said they had "historically been funding terrorism at a very high level" in June.

A coalition of Sunni Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE have imposed a boycott on the small Persian Gulf nation and given it 10 days to respond to a 13-point ultimatum. 

Saudi Arabia cuts ties with Qatar over terror links

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has tried to mediate the crisis and earlier this week called on the Arab nations to limit themselves to "reasonable and actionable" demands.

But on Saturday Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s state minister for foreign affairs, warned Qatar should "deal seriously with the demands and concerns of the neighbours or a divorce will take place", according to Associated Press.

Qatari officials insist they can survive steps taken to pressure them into compliance, even as a top Emirati official warned the tiny country to brace for a long-term economic squeeze.

Qatari Ambassador to the US Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani said they won't sit down to negotiate an end to the crisis while the siege conditions remain in place.

He said: "I can assure you that our situation today is very comfortable.

"Qatar could continue forever like that with no problems."

Asked whether Qatar felt pressure to resolve the crisis quickly, he said: "Not at all."

The Gulf nations said they would continue to restrict Qatar's land, sea and air routes indefinitely if they refuse to comply with their demands.

Emirati Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba insisted there was no threat of military action, but warned: "The measures that have been taken are there to stay until there is a long-term solution to the issue."

The ultimatum was quickly rejected by Qatar's ally, Turkey, and Al Jazeera dismissed it as an effort "to silence the freedom of expression in the region and to suppress people's right to information and the right to be heard". 

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The demands from the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Egyptians and the Bahrainis amount to a call for a sweeping overhaul of Qatar's foreign policy and natural gas-funded push for greater influence in the region. 

Complying would force Qatar to bring its policies in line with the regional vision of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East's biggest economy and gatekeeper of Qatar's only land border.

"This reflects basically an attempt from these countries to suppress free media and also undermine our sovereignty," said Al Thani, the Qatari envoy. "They are trying to impose their views on how the issues need to be dealt with in the Middle East."

"They are bullies," he added. 

Qatar vehemently denies funding or supporting extremism but acknowledges that it allows members of some extremist groups such as Hamas to live in Qatar, arguing that fostering dialogue is key to resolving global conflicts.

The move by Qatar's neighbours has left it under a de facto blockade. Although residents made a run on the supermarket in the days after the crisis erupted, the situation has since calmed as Qatar secured alternative sources of imported food from Turkey and elsewhere.

Yet resisting the demands could prove difficult.

"The four states can afford to wait, but Qatar cannot," said Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics. "This crisis could threaten the political stability of the ruling family in Qatar in the long term if it lasts."

Qatar's neighbours are demanding that it:

—Curb diplomatic ties with Iran, and limit trade and commerce.

—Stop funding other news outlets, including Arabi21, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.

—Hand over "terrorist figures" and wanted individuals from the four countries.

—Stop all means of funding for groups or people designated by foreign countries as terrorists.

—Pay an unspecified sum in reparations.

—Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. 

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