Qatar is at risk of being hit with US economic sanctions over its alleged support for Hamas and other offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ed Royce, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, on May 23 said he would introduce legislation threatening sanctions against countries that provide support for “terrorist elements of the Muslim Brotherhood” and Hamas in particular.
Qatar has long been accused by other Gulf countries of providing funds and political support to Muslim Brotherhood groups, an allegation the Doha government denies. “We do not, will not and have not supported the Muslim Brotherhood,” Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told Arab News.
Royce and other participants to the conference on Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood’s global affiliates said there was overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Robert Gates, a former US defence secretary and CIA director, spoke at the event, organised by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington think-tank, of a “long history of Qatar welcoming the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Gates said that, while the Muslim Brotherhood was behaving like “science fiction shape-shifters,” there could be no doubt that it was still a movement committed to the re-establishment of an Islamic caliphate and the introduction of sharia. “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it probably is a duck,” he said in answer to a question whether the Brotherhood should be regarded as a group with radical Islamist goals.
Royce, a Republican, insisted that the threat of sanctions could convince Doha to end its support for the Brotherhood. “We need to see a change in behaviour immediately,” he said about Qatar. Royce did not give details of the draft measure he has been working on with Brian Mast, another Republican in the House of Representatives, but said the United States had to act following broken promises by Qatar to crack down on radical Islamist groups.
“If we are talking about moving legislation… that focuses on sanctioning those who support Hamas and if Qatar is supporting Hamas, then we are talking about sanctions against Qatar,” Royce said. “There comes a time when you have to move forward decisively.”
The Qatari Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Moving against Qatar is not a straightforward enterprise for the United States, however. Qatar is home to the biggest US military base in the Middle East and is an important military ally for Washington in the region. Relocating the Qatar base to another place in the Middle East to put pressure on Doha would not be easy, Gates said at the conference. “I don’t think anybody should underestimate how complicated that would be,” he said.
Gates said Washington should confront Qatar with a list of requests and concerns and tell the government in Doha that the United States expected a change in behaviour. “If you are unwilling to change these things, then we will begin to change the nature of this relationship” should be the US message to Qatar, he said.
Thomas Seibert is an Arab Weekly contributor in Istanbul.