Al Jazeera “doing a sterling job covering the situation” in Sudan

We get little coverage in New Zealand of the ongoing civil war in Sudan. To follow what is happening you have to look overseas, and Al Jazeera provides some of the best coverage of what is happening in the Middle East.

Al Jazeera Arabic, which was kicked out of Sudan a couple of weeks ago, is still doing a sterling job covering the situation in Khartoum – no mean feat given that the military have all but shut down internet services in the country.

Smuggled footage taken from moving vehicles show largely deserted streets in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Al Jazeera Arabic broadcasts the footage while interviewing activists and analysts out of Khartoum on scratchy phone lines.

Sudan is yet another country which has shut down Al Jazeera Arabic’s offices, in addition to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain. Al Jazeera also seems to be at least heavily restricted in Algeria, which is also in a state of unrest.

Some of the bans have to do with the ongoing split between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and given the Saudi financial backing of the military council in Sudan, it comes as no surprise that Al Jazeera has been banned there.

However, it’s more than that, and a glance at the Wikipedia page for AJA () gives a long list of countries in which Al Jazeera has been declared unwelcome at one point or another, including Israel, Iraq and even India.

As George Orwell said, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.” Twenty-three years after its launch, Al Jazeera continues to make itself unpopular with regimes throughout the Middle East. That’s a good thing.

Thanks to and the many other Al Jazeera Arabic presenters, journalists, producers, camera operators and others who continue to work in very trying conditions to show and tell us what is going on.

Media and journalism get a bad rap these days, not helped by frequent attacks by one of the most prominent world leaders, Donald Trump, who does his best to discredit what he doesn’t want printed or broadcast.

This isn’t as bad as countries in the Middle East, but his aims seem chillingly similar, to promote his own (often nonsense) narrative and turn people against media reporting things he doesn’t want broadcast.

Being dumped on and shunned by draconian governments is a sign that Al Jazeera is doing some very good work reporting on what is happening.

Al Jazeera website Breaking News, World News and Video from Al Jazeera

“News, analysis from the Middle East & worldwide, multimedia & interactives, opinions, documentaries, podcasts, long reads and broadcast schedule.”

Sky TV in New Zealand broadcast Al Jazeera on channel 90.

UAE orchestrated hacking of Qatari government sites

U.S. intelligence officials have alleged that the UAE at least orchestrated hacking of Qatari Government websites to post false quotes that were then used to justify major sanctions against Qatar.

Washington Post: UAE orchestrated hacking of Qatari government sites, sparking regional upheaval, according to U.S. intelligence officials

The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the emir, among other things, had called Iran an “Islamic power” and praised Hamas.

The hacks and posting took place on May 24, shortly after President Trump completed a lengthy counterterrorism meeting with Persian Gulf leaders in neighboring Saudi Arabia and declared them unified.

Citing the emir’s reported comments, the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt immediately banned all Qatari media. They then broke relations with Qatar and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott, sending the region into a political and diplomatic tailspin that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned could undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State.

In a statement released in Washington by its ambassador, Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE said the Post article was “false.”

“The UAE had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article,” the statement said. “What is true is Qatar’s behavior. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas and Qadafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbors.”

The US were in a difficult position. They have their main Middle East military base in Qatar.

The conflict has also exposed sharp differences between Trump — who has clearly taken the Saudi and UAE side in a series of tweets and statements — and Tillerson, who has urged compromise and spent most of last week in shuttle diplomacy among the regional capitals that has been unsuccessful so far.

“We don’t expect any near-term resolution,” Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond said Saturday.

The claim of UAE orchestrated hacking probably won’t help achieve a resolution.

13 point ultimatum for Qatar

Qatar has been issued with a 13 point ultimatum and has been given 10 days to comply as Saudi Arabia and their allies pile the pressure on top of the blockade.

Guardian:  Qatar given 10 days to meet 13 sweeping demands by Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and its allies have issued a threatening 13-point ultimatum to Qatar as the price for lifting a two-week trade and diplomatic embargo of the country, in a marked escalation of the Gulf’s worst diplomatic dispute in decades.

The onerous list of demands includes stipulations that Doha close the broadcaster al-Jazeera, drastically scale back cooperation with Iran, remove Turkish troops from Qatar’s soil, end contact with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and submit to monthly external compliance checks. Qatar has been given 10 days to comply with the demands or face unspecified consequences.

Saudi Arabia and the other nations leading the blockade – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – launched an economic and diplomatic blockade on the energy-rich country a fortnight ago, initially claiming the Qatari royal family had licensed the funding of terrorism across the Middle East for decades. Since then, the allies appear to be pushing for the isolation of Iran and the suppression of dissenting media in the region.

Ordering a shut down of Al Jazeera on it’s own should be of concern to Gezza, and anyone who values free press.

Qatar has become reliant on Turkey and Iran for food imports since the embargo was imposed on 5 June and insists with its huge wealth it can survive the embargo for an indefinite period.

Qatar is the richest country in the world per head of population.

In a sign that the UK does not regard the demands as reasonable, foreign secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday: “Gulf unity can only be restored when all countries involved are willing to discuss terms that are measured and realistic.

“The UK calls upon the Gulf states to find a way of de-escalating the situation and lifting the current embargo and restrictions which are having an impact on the everyday lives of people in the region.”

Sounds sensible but ineffective.

US policy towards Qatar so far has been marked by confusion. President Donald Trump has appeared to take credit for the Saudi embargo and described Qatar as a haven for terrorism.

By contrast, the State Department under Rex Tillerson has twice upbraided Saudi Arabia’s approach to Qatar and questioned its true motives in sparking the diplomatic crisis.

In recent days the State Department has been pressing Saudi to specify the actions Qatar must take to see the embargo lifted, but warned that those demands need to be “reasonable and actionable”.

The US has a large military base in Qatar. It also has an unpredictable president.

The demands:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Shut down al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
  4. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
  5. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10.  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.
  11.  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.
  12.  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.
  13.  Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

I really don’t know much about how things work in the Middle East but that list seems highly hypocritical, and must be designed to be impossible to comply with because some of those demands are not just ridiculous, they would amount to Qatar being controlled by foreign dictat.

Qatar tensions still

The Qatar dispute continues to simmer, with a risk of war being suggested.

Reuters:  Gulf leaders trade barbs as Qatar dispute shows no let-up

Gulf states traded public barbs on Saturday, showing little sign of resolving the region’s deepest rift in years, five days after Arab nations severed diplomatic, trade and transport ties with the tiny Gulf kingdom of Qatar, .

Foreign leaders expressed growing concern over the dispute, which pits Qatar against Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt. With backing from U.S. President Donald Trump, they accuse Qatar of supporting their regional arch-rival Iran as well as Islamist militants.

After German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the situation “very unsettling” on Friday, her foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, cautioned on Saturday that it could lead to war.

Kuwait…

…has led a regional effort to mediate, but the four states intensified the pressure on Friday by placing dozens of people with alleged links to Qatar on terrorism blacklists.

A senior UAE official…

…followed on Saturday by calling Qatar “duplicitous”, alleging in a series of tweets that its funding of militants had sown chaos and violence throughout the region.

Qatar’s foreign minister,,,

…fired back that there was “no clarity” in such accusations, speaking in an interview with RT Arabic in Moscow after emerging from talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“Qatar is accused of having a hidden relationship with Iran, but its relations with Iran are clear, transparent and time-tested,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, noting that the UAE does more trade with Iran than Qatar does.

He denied that Qatar supported Egypt’s outlawed Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. He dismissed as “fantasy” a Saudi media report that he had met in Baghdad with the head of Iran’s Quds Force, controlled by Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov…

…told Sheikh al-Thani of Moscow’s concern and called for talks.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan…

…- who has pledged food and troops to Qatar in the face of a blockade from its neighbours – hosted Bahrain’s foreign minister and urged that the dispute be resolved by the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Niger…

announced it had recalled its ambassador to Qatar in solidarity with Arab countries.

The US and Trump

The US position is still as confused as Trump

However, mixed messages from U.S. officials appeared to complicate the diplomacy, as Gulf media cited selectively from divergent statements to bolster their positions.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain…

…issued statements welcoming U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand the previous day for Qatar to stop supporting terrorism, while ignoring a U.S. State Department call for them to ease pressure.

Saudi Arabia…

…said it was committed to “decisive and swift action to cut off all funding sources for terrorism” in a statement carried by the state news agency SPA, while Bahrain hailed U.S. efforts to ensure “international solidarity” on the issue.

The United Arab Emirates…

…praised Trump’s “leadership in challenging Qatar’s troubling support for extremism” in a separate statement released on Friday.

Trump had accused Qatar of being a “high level” funder of terrorism on Friday, even as the Pentagon and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cautioned against the military, commercial and humanitarian effects of a blockade imposed by Arab states and others.

A separate SPA report on Saturday acknowledged Tillerson’s call for Qatar to curtail support for terrorism, without mentioning that he had also said the crisis was hurting ordinary Qataris, impairing business and harming the U.S. fight against the Islamic State militant group.

Saudi Arabia said its action followed the conclusions of last month’s Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, where Trump delivered a speech about Islamist extremism.

Trump said he had helped to plan the move against Qatar, although a senior administration official told Reuters this week that Washington had had no indication from the Saudis or Emiratis during the visit that they would sever ties with Qatar.

Has Trump claimed credit for something he had no involvement in?

Is the Trump administration denying US involvement?

The US has their most important Middle easy military base in Qatar and have a deal to supply over $20 billion worth of military aircraft to Qatar.

On Trump’s trip he announced a deal for the US to supply nearly $110 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia.

Trump trumpeted this deal with “jobs, jobs, jobs”.

If US arms in Qatar are used against US arms in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and vice versa there may well be plenty of jobs in the US making bullets and bombs. There may also be a few vacancies in the US military if their soldiers, sailors and airpeople are caught in the middle of it all in Qatar.

But Trump may just send KUshner in to sort it all out and peace may rain on the parched Middle East deserts.

 

Bizarre Qatar situation

Turkey has sided with Qatar in the Middle East split:

Bloomberg:  Turkey Lines Up Behind Qatar as Gulf Crisis Fault Lines Deepen

Turkey criticized Saudi-led efforts to isolate ally Qatar, deepening the fault lines in a crisis that has engulfed one of the world’s most strategically important regions.

In defending Qatar, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined a growing list of Middle East nations resisting Saudi Arabia’s push for a united regional front against the gas-rich emirate, whose maverick policies have vexed the kingdom for years. On Wednesday, the head of NATO’s second-largest army offered to try to mend the rift, which has created havoc at airports and seaports, and added new tinder to the already combustible Middle East by challenging the authority of Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

“I’d like to say that we don’t find sanctions against Qatar right,” Erdogan said at a gathering in the Turkish capital, Ankara, late Tuesday. “The most appropriate way for the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to solve their internal issues is through dialogue.”

“We are ready to do everything to resolve other countries’ problems with Qatar,” he added.

Turkey and Qatar have close ties, and Erdogan has sided with the emirate against Saudi Arabia in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Qatar is a major investor in Turkey’s $857 billion economy, with interests in media, financial and defense companies, and Turkey is building a base in the emirate.

Surprise surprise, money is involved.

Interesting that Turkey is building a base in Qatar. The US already has a large base there.

Saudi Arabia and three other U.S. allies in the region — the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain — escalated tensions that followed President Donald Trump’s Iran-bashing visit to the kingdom last month by severing ties with Qatar on Monday.

Trump gave the Saudis crucial backing on Tuesday, calling the squeeze on Qatar just punishment for the country’s financial support for Islamic extremists.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Trump said on Twitter. “Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” In two additional tweets he said the action proved that his meeting with Persian Gulf Arab leaders last month was “already paying off.”

But the US is supposed to be selling $21.1 billion (US) worth of F-15s to Qatar.

Fox News:  Qatar’s $21B deal to buy F-15s moving forward amid diplomatic battle

A plan to sell $21.1 billion worth of Boeing (BA)-made F-15 fighter jets to Qatar appears to be moving forward, despite several countries cutting diplomatic ties with the Middle Eastern nation this week.

A State Department official said the diplomatic battle and President Donald Trump’s criticism of Qatar, which is under fire for allegedly supporting terrorist groups, has not affected the pending deal to deliver 72 F-15QA multirole fighters, according to Fox News.

In a statement, Boeing said it’s “closely following recent developments.”

“We have been working closely with the U.S. and Qatari governments on this proposed sale. We continue to expect that an agreement will be signed,” Boeing added.

What a convoluted mess it is.

I think it’s likely that Trump has no idea how complex things are there. It seems as long as there’s business in it he will back it, but the military complications are bizarre.

Complicating Middle East split

Five Middle East countries have severed ties with Qatar, complicating an already very complex situation there, and and making things awkward for the US which has a major military base there.

NY Times: 5 Arab States Break Ties With Qatar, Complicating U.S. Coalition-Building

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries severed all ties with Qatar

early Monday, in a renewal of a four-year effort to isolate it and in a sign of a new boldness after a visit to the region by President Trump.

In an abrupt and surprising move, the five Arab states not only suspended diplomatic relations, as they have in the past, but also cut off land, air and sea travel to and from Qatar. All but Egypt, which has many thousands of people working there, ordered their citizens to leave the country.

Qatar, like other monarchies in the Persian Gulf, is a close ally of Washington, and it hosts a major American military base that commands the United States-led air campaign against the Islamic State.

As such, the feud among regional allies threatens to stress the operations of the American-led coalition and complicate efforts in the region to confront Iran — but could also be a heavy blow to Tehran’s regional ambitions, if Qatar is forced to sever ties.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson offered to broker the impasse on Monday in the hope of preserving the Trump administration’s efforts to create broad coalitions against Iran and terrorist groups in the Middle East.

“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Tillerson’s visit to New Zealand may be little more than some time out from difficult and complex issues elsewhere in the world.

The severing of all connections by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen created an immediate crisis for Qatar. Qatari diplomats were given 48 hours to leave their posts in Bahrain, while Qatari citizens were allotted two weeks to depart Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia said it was taking the action to “protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.” The Foreign Ministry of Qatar released a statement saying the action had “no basis in fact” and was “unjustified.”

The Iranian government criticized the Saudi-led action against Qatar in a diplomatically worded rebuke. “Neighbors are permanent; geography can’t be changed,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on his Twitter account. “Coercion is never the solution,” Mr. Zarif said. “Dialogue is imperative, especially during blessed Ramadan.”

Why make this move, and why now?

It was not immediately clear why the five countries decided to take this action now. Last month, Qatar’s state news media published comments attributed to the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, referring to tension with Washington over Iran policy and saying Mr. Trump might not be in power for long. Qatar denied the comments, saying it had been the victim of a “cybercrime.”

But most analysts pointed to President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

But the move also creates potential complications for the United States — raising questions about whether the Trump administration knew it was happening; if they understood the pitfalls; if they attempted to counter it and could not.

Everything is a complication in the Middle East.

In another indication of how the Trump visit may have emboldened Gulf monarchies, Bahrain has cracked down on opposition from its Shiite majority over the last two weeks.

In international affairs even the best intentions rarely achieve their aims without at least some adverse reactions and effects.

Its actions are a study in contradictions. Qatar has good relations with Iran, but hosts the American air base, is helping to fight the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and supports insurgents against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, which is backed by Tehran. And yet, the Qatari emir once gave Mr. Assad an Airbus plane.

Home to some Israeli officials, Qatar has also given refuge to Khaled Mashal, a leader of Hamas, the hard-line Islamist group in Gaza that advocates the destruction of Israel.

Tensions had been building for years, beginning with Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and through the broadcasts of the Pan-Arab news network Al Jazeera, which Qatar funds.

Qatar’s rivals have also faulted it for condoning fund-raising for militant Islamist groups fighting in Syria, although several of the other Sunni-led monarchies in the region have played similar roles.

So the US has a military base that it uses to fight ISIS in a country that allegedly supports fund raising for ISIS.

Qatar’s opponents have recently added a third allegation to those grievances: that it is conspiring with their regional rival, Iran.

In his visit to the Middle East Trump named Iran as the main enemy of peace in the Middle East.

However the crisis is resolved, if at all, Mr. Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who appeared in their first joint news conference, in Sydney, Australia, after talks with their Australian counterparts, insisted that it would not undermine the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Tillerson will visit New Zealand today. I doubt whether political protests against Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord – see Futile protest against US climate stance – will be very high on Tillerson’s list of concerns.