First Published: 2017-09-21

Qatari expats lauded as statesmen by Arab critics
Little-known Qatari princes promoted by media in Saudi Arabia and UAE as talented decision-makers, widely seen as a dig at prestige of Doha's current leadership.
Middle East Online

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

RIYADH - Qatar's Arab critics are targeting a new pressure point in their feud with Doha - the tiny country's ruling family - permitting state-linked media outlets to portray two little-known Qatari princes living abroad as distinguished statesmen.

The publicity, in which the two men are lauded by media in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as talented decision-makers capable of solving the rift, is widely seen as a dig at the prestige of Doha's current leadership.

Despite Saudi Arabia and the UAE insisting they do not seek regime change, the publicity appears aimed at upping pressure on Doha, which they accuse of long meddling in their own domestic affairs.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut political and trade ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism and their arch-foe Iran - charges Doha denies.

The two men hailing from a branch of the ruling Al-Thani family, silver-haired Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali based in London but now living in Riyadh, and his younger nephew Sheikh Sultan bin Suhaim, now feature regularly on Saudi and UAE channels.

Praising Saudi King Salman and his powerful son Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, they both called this week to convene a meeting of the Qatari ruling family to "discuss the crisis."

"Because of the government's current policy that allowed hateful and bitter people to infiltrate Qatar and to spread their poison everywhere, we have now reached the abyss," Sheikh Sultan, based in Paris, said in a statement carried by UAE-based Sky News Arabia TV.

- Taboo tested -

While the princes do not expressly present themselves as replacements to Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, analysts believe their sudden prominence is designed to undermine him - an uphill task for men few Qataris had heard of until recently.

"For such a strategy to work, you need to find an alternative that already has a popular base," said Jean-Marc Rickli, head of global risk and resilience at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

The move is eye-catching because it appears to test a Gulf taboo: while many Gulf ruling families, including the al-Thani of Qatar, have a record of palace intrigue, fellow dynasties in neighbouring states rarely interfere in each other's internal family politics for fear of attracting intrusion in return.

The crisis has pressured Qatar's economy, squeezing company revenues and forcing costly rerouting of trade and air transport that once ran easily through their neighbours' skies and waters.

Doha has responded by stepping up trade with Turkey and Iran, handing diplomatic gains to two countries with whom Riyadh and its allies vie for regional influence.

Qatar's refusal to accede to 13 demands, including that it shutter popular news channel Al Jazeera, downgrade ties with Tehran and expel Islamist leaders from Doha, may have driven its adversaries to train their sights on the ruling family.

"An environment where Qatar becomes a permanent partner for Iran and Turkey would be viewed as highly problematic for the leadership in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi," said Ayham Kamel of the Eurasia Group consultancy.

"The Arab quartet is still focused on pressuring Qatar to concede on parts of the 13 demands, but Qatari intransigence is encouraging these states to consider other options."


Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Natural gas in eastern Mediterranean fuels increasing tensions

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting

36 jihadists killed in Egypt’s Sinai

Israel arrests French consulate worker for gun smuggling

Pro-Turkish forces loot Afrin

Israel prepares to demolish Jerusalem attacker's home

Saudi crown prince says his country to seek nuclear bomb if Iran does

Arab women artists in diaspora focus on identity and loss

Tunisia’s Central Bank targets inflation but may hurt growth prospects

Libya’s health system reflects a larger humanitarian crisis