Sunday,20 August, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)
Sunday,20 August, 2017
Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Does the West want to eradicate terrorism?

The ambiguous Western response to the Arab Quartet’s resolution against Qatar raises the question of whether it is serious about combating terrorism, writes Sayed Khattab

Tillerson with Qatari foreign minister
Tillerson with Qatari foreign minister

There is no doubt that terrorism is one of the most pressing issues of the day worldwide. In the aftermath of 9/11 and because of its enormous impact, the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam, comes to the fore whenever the word terrorism is mentioned. However, terrorism does not only affect the Middle East, but has had its horrible impact on many other regions of the world, including Europe and the United States.

Terrorist attacks in Europe seem to be on the news every day to the extent that one might almost consider terrorism to be taking over Europe. What we have seen of terrorist acts in Britain, France or Germany and elsewhere in Europe over the last couple of years confirms what Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah  Al-Sisi said four years ago, when, one year before he was elected to the top office and was still minister of defence, he warned that terrorism had neither nationality nor religion and that it was not confined to a particular place or to a particular people. Terrorism is transnational and has no specific geographical location, he said. It could strike anywhere, including Europe. Al-Sisi called on the world to get together to fight and annihilate terrorism.

Over the past four years, Egypt has been fighting terrorism in Sinai in the east, securing its 1,200 km border with Libya in the west, and securing its 1,200 km border with Sudan in the south. It has been doing this with all the means it has to hand, and here one should note that Egypt will never forget former US president Barack Obama’s cutting off of military assistance to Egypt at a time when it needed it most. Egypt was then emerging from a period of domestic upheaval and was engaged in maintaining its national security.  

However, while it is true that terrorist groups may have subsided or declined due to counter-terrorism arrangements and crushing security strikes, terrorists often enter into periods of hibernation, brief or extended depending on circumstances, and then return with the same ideas and manner of action as though nothing had previously happened. As a result, annihilating terrorism requires cooperation between the world’s powers. The war on terror should also not be confined to military means alone, but should consider ideology, finance and media coverage as well, and these things were addressed in the recent summit held on 20-21 May in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.

This was part of a series of three major summits, with the Saudi and United States summit being followed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and United States summit and then the Arab-Islamic-American summit. While US President Donald Trump attended the first and second summit meetings alone, at the third he was accompanied by 55 leaders of the Muslim world. This unique summit meeting strengthened international relations through a shared belief in tolerance and collaboration. Over the course of the three meetings, world leaders renewed their commitment to global security and were united in the aim and objective of eradicating terrorism.

Moreover, at the Arab-Islamic-American summit President Al-Sisi gave an important speech in which he outlined a comprehensive strategy to counter terrorism and radicalism. He listed four specific policies that should be implemented in order to eradicate terrorism. This speech was approved by the United Nations Security Council on 24 May and accepted as an official document.

Focusing on one of these policies, Al-Sisi stated that “it is not possible to reduce the confrontation to one or two organisations; all terrorist organisations are active in a cancerous network and are interconnected in most parts of the world by numerous bonds, including ideology, funding as well as military, security and information sharing.” Terrorists are not only members of Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS) group. As Al-Sisi said, “terrorists are not only those who carry weapons, but also those who provide them with weapons, military and ideological training, safe havens, medical treatment, funding as well as political, ideological and media coverage.”

 

IMPLEMENTING RECOMMENDATIONS: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain took the initiative to implement the Arab-Islamic-American summit’s recommendations to eradicate terrorism.

The Arab Quartet has been fighting terrorism in its countries for quite a while, and it has been deservedly critical of those countries that support terrorism in the region. Its members have pointed to Qatar as being among the countries supporting terrorism in the region. Qatar is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and it has provided a safe haven, financial support and media coverage for terrorists through the Qatari Al-Jazeera media network.

Qatar has been acting in a way that could be described as being that of a double agent. It has always presented two faces. It does one thing and its opposite at the same time. As a member of the GCC, Qatar sits at the table with the group’s other members, while under it, it plots with Iran and the Lebanese group Hizbullah against it. Qatar is also a member of the Saudi-led Sunni coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 in order to restore the legitimate government ousted by the Shiite Houthi militia sponsored by Iran. However, Qatar has also been planning tactical support with Iran, strengthening the Houthi militia against the Saudi-led coalition. Qatar is also a member of the US-led coalition to fight terrorism, but at the same time it supports Al-Qaeda in Yemen and terrorist groups in Syria, Libya, Somalia and elsewhere.

In addition, the Qatari media has continued to interfere in the affairs of neighbouring Gulf states to the extent that in 2002 Al-Jazeera hosted people directly criticising King Abdel-Aziz, the late founder of Saudi Arabia. This led the Saudis to cut their relations with Qatar and withdraw their ambassador, Saleh Al-Tuaymi, from Doha in 2002. Agreements were later signed by Qatar and promises were given such that relations were restored with the Saudis, but Qatar did not respect its signature or fulfil its promises to its neighbours. This and similar behaviour alarmed the GCC and the leaders of the Arab League to the extent that they warned Qatar several times of the consequences of its dangerous conduct. These warnings, however, fell on deaf ears in Qatar.

The GCC patiently dealt with Qatar, as outlined by Prince Khaled bin Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to Jordan. At a counter-terrorism conference held in Amman on 11 July and attended by various ambassadors and officials, Prince Khaled outlined Saudi Arabia’s efforts to “stop Qatar’s support for terrorism” and the use of “its media to instigate violence and spread chaos in the region.” He also stated that “the Kingdom has been patient with Qatar for more than 21 years. Patience for longer than that is a deficit and not a virtue.”  

In 2013, the GCC advised Qatar to change its dangerous political conduct, and after comprehensive negotiations it reached an agreement with Qatar in November the same year. Called the Riyadh Agreement, this was signed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Emir Tamim Al-Thani of Qatar and Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the emir of Kuwait. It laid out commitments to avoid interference in the affairs of the Gulf states, including financial or political support to deviant or radical groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and similar Islamist groups. It also contained commitments not to support antagonistic media. However, Qatar has not fulfilled the agreement or respected its commitments. The emir of Qatar perhaps signed the agreement while knowing full well that he would not comply with it.

The failure of Qatar to fulfil its commitments under the 2013 Agreement led to another agreement with Qatar in 2014. The latter, known as the Supplemental Agreement, was signed by the GCC ministers of foreign affairs.  However, nothing has come from either of the agreements signed by Qatar.

As a result, in March 2014 Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain decided to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar once again. The three countries issued a joint statement outlining their resolution to withdraw their ambassadors following the failure of efforts to convince Qatar to abide by the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other GCC countries, directly or indirectly, and not to support individuals or groups threatening the security and stability of the GCC states, directly or indirectly, by influencing their political authorities through the media or TV outlets.

However, on this occasion mediators began travelling between Doha and other GCC capitals, and finally a complementary agreement was drafted and further measures were considered to resume relations and return the ambassadors to Qatar. This new agreement and other measures affirmed that if Qatar did not comply, the GCC would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to protect its security and stability. However, as soon as the ambassadors returned to their embassies on this occasion, Qatar returned to its dangerous game and forgot about its commitments.

Qatar again did not comply with the Complementary Agreement, fulfilled nothing, and did not respect its promises or its signatures. After these attempts at negotiations, the GCC found Qatar’s stubborn conduct to be endangering the political authorities and peace and stability in the region.

Consequently, on 5 June this year Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt announced that they were cutting off relations with Qatar and closing their air, sea and land ports to it.  

 

WESTERN RESPONSE: What is interesting here is the response of the Western capitals, especially Washington, London, Berlin and Paris. Despite these capitals having been hit hard by terrorism, statements coming out of them concerning the Arab Quartet’s resolution against Qatar were not politically adequate.

In Washington, for instance, while President Trump directly accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism, saying Qatar “has been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, argued that the Arab Quartet’s resolution was difficult and could not be implemented. Trump said that “the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding and its extremist ideology… So, we had a decision to make: do we take the easy road, or do we finally take a hard but necessary action? We have to stop the funding of terrorism… The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”

But against these statements, the State Department come out by saying that “now that it has been more than two weeks since the embargo has started, we are mystified that the Gulf states have not released to the public nor to the Qataris the details about the claims they are making towards Qatar.” With these statements, Tillerson put himself and the president at odds.

Similarly, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel criticised not only the resolution of the Arab Quartet against Qatar’s support for terrorism, but also Trump’s position against Qatar. Gabriel also coined a special term to describe the Arab resolution against Qatar, calling it “Trumpisation”. We owe our thanks to the German minister for inventing this term and expanding the English language. Annihilating terrorism was perhaps not in the minister’s interest as much as the interest in defending German business interests in Qatar.

“Apparently, Qatar is to be isolated more or less completely and hit existentially… Such a Trumpisation of the treatment [of Qatar] is particularly dangerous in a region already plagued by crisis,” the minister said. But part of the reason for the crisis in the region is precisely Qatar’s support for terrorism.

The intelligence agencies in these Western capitals are very much aware of Qatar’s financial and logistical support for terrorism. Qatar spent $64.2 billion on support for terrorism in the period from 2011 to 2015. There are enough documents to confirm that in 2012 Qatar increased its funding for terrorism to $11.4 billion, and this increased in 2013 to $12.2 billion and in 2014 to $12.6 billion. There is nothing new here, and these figures are well known to the intelligence agencies.

For example, the national coordinator for security and counter-terrorism in the former US Clinton and Bush administrations, Richard Clarke, published an article in the US newspaper Daily News on 6 July this year entitled “We Always Knew Qatar was Trouble, as the 1990s Escape of Terror Mastermind Khaled Sheikh Muhammad Showed”. The title of the article clearly indicates its contents, and it said that Qatar’s support for terrorism had led to the “9/11 attacks, the Bali bombing in Indonesia, the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl and other terrorist attacks” that had changed the world.

 Speaking of the task of the committees he chaired when a member of the US administration, Clarke pointed out that “there was a consensus that we could not trust the Qatar government… The Qataris had a history of terrorist sympathies, and one cabinet member in particular, a member of the royal family, seemed to have ties to groups like Al-Qaeda.”

As a result, in the view of the United States, as well as that of the Arab Quartet, Qatar is not trustworthy as it does not abide by the rules dealing with terrorism and related issues. Hence, trustworthy, liability and responsibility were the central issues behind Tillerson’s mediation between Qatar and the Arab Quartet, and it was no surprise that this ended in failure. Moreover, Tillerson’s statements opposed him to his own president and put him in the Qatari camp. Despite his statements, Tillerson still decided to try to mediate between Qatar and the Arab Quartet, however.

He visited Qatar first, where he signed a memorandum of understanding with his Qatari counterpart to “track the flow of terrorist financing”.  Tillerson found in this memorandum a reason to praise Qatar lavishly, saying that this “oil-rich country has behaved reasonably throughout the dispute… Together, the United States and Qatar will do more to track down the funding sources” for terrorism. Whether this statement, like the previous ones, discredits his neutrality or not, Tillerson thought that the memorandum would help Qatar out from its dark tunnel and solve its problems with its neighbours. He therefore went on to meet his counterparts in the Arab Quartet in Jeddah as had previously been planned.

During this meeting, Tillerson briefed the Arab representatives about the memorandum signed in Qatar. He seems not have been aware that Qatar is not truthful about counter-terrorism and related issues. Tillerson was not attentive to the similar agreements that Qatar had signed, but had not abided by. However, the representatives of the Arab Quartet in Jeddah still said they appreciated his efforts, though their question as to whether Qatar would abide by the new memorandum was one that Tillerson could not answer. As a result, the question of the trustworthiness, accountability and responsibility of Qatar was central to the problems between Qatar and the Arab Quartet.  

The response of the Western powers to the Qatari crisis brings up many questions about their interest in eradicating terrorism. As soon as the Qatari crisis surfaced, Western powers such as Germany, Britain, France, the United States and others were alarmed, issued statements some of which were not neutral, and rushed to the region in an attempt to resolve the problem. In trying to identify the reasons behind this response, one might refer to the importance of the region’s wealth, as well as its gas and oil reserves. These reasons are well known and are well appreciated by the Arab Quartet. When this group decided to move against Qatar, among its main reasons were to protect the region’s gas and oil from terrorism, maintain energy flows, and ensure security, peace and stability in the region.

The Western powers are well aware of Qatar’s involvement in supporting terrorism. Their intelligence agencies know that Qatar has acted as a sanctuary for the leaders of terrorism and its ideologues in the region. Therefore, those who want to mediate in the Qatari crisis should take a deep breath and pay attention to the Arab Quartet’s documented arguments before issuing non-neutral statements and complicating the problem instead of solving it.

The charges against Qatar, as described by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, have passed the stage of allegations to the stage of facts. Shoukri has drawn attention to documents released on 9 June this year by the Quartet as examples of Qatar’s support for terrorism. The documents list a dozen organisations and 59 people accused of links to terrorist organisations, some of them Qataris or individuals with links to Qatar’s royal family. Many of these individuals and groups are listed in the United States and other countries as terrorists or as being linked to terrorism.

As these documents further confirm Qatar’s support for terrorism, the question also arises of Qatar’s link to terrorist attacks in Europe. As indicated above, Qatar supports terrorist organisations including the Jabhat Al-Nusrah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Some of these operate in European countries, and intelligence reports indicate that the countries targeted by terrorists, including Britain, Germany, France and Belgium, have seen terrorist numbers increase to reach 66,000, with the Muslim Brotherhood acting as their godfather and supporting them in various forms of ideological and military training.

 

TERRORISM IN EUROPE: Focusing just on Britain, one should be aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is very active in this country, and it has used it as a base for its second and third-generation members to carry out terrorist attacks of the sort seen in France, Germany, Belgium and Russia.

The Manchester attacks on 22 May this year were carried out by a second-generation immigrant to Britain, Salman Ramadan, the 22-year-old son of a Muslim Brotherhood member living in Britain. Zuhayr Khaled Nasrat, arrested by the British police, is also a Muslim Brotherhood member. Just two weeks after the carnage in Manchester, terrorism appeared once again in Britain in London on 3 June when seven innocent people were murdered. Britain thus saw three terrorist attacks in Manchester and London that led to the deaths of 28 people and wounded more than 50 others.

How many more people need to be killed before the British government acts seriously against terrorism and related issues? The UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph has determined that about 40 terrorists have used human rights laws to stay in Britain and avoid being deported to their countries of origin. An alarming intelligence report has said that there are about 23,000 extremists living in Britain.

Yet, what has the British government done with the report about the Muslim Brotherhood commissioned during the government of former prime minister David Cameron? Are the country’s security authorities aware of the Al-Maqrizi Centre in Britain, which was established by Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and was managed by one of the terrorists who killed former Egyptian president Anwar Al-Sadat? What is this Centre doing in London? Does it add to the culture and civilisation of Britain? Furthermore, what is the Global Media Centre of the Muslim Brotherhood doing in north London? Is this Office promoting British values, or is it promoting the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology? What is the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Amanatull Iman Society” doing in London?

Such organisations are used to carry out financial transfers between Qatar, Turkey and the UK. Islamists use titles like these with social and charitable implications to cover up their actual activities. The Muslim Brotherhood’s radicalism and terrorism has been well documented, and many excellent research centres in London are aware of it. They are also aware that Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al-Qaeda, together with Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of IS, all are basically Muslim Brothers. They were raised within this organisation and ideologically and militarily trained at its hands. This has been admitted by the Muslim Brotherhood itself, including by ideologue Sheikh Al-Qaradawi, an adviser of the Qatari royal family.

Al-Qaradawi is a terrorist ideologue, and he is prohibited from entering many countries including the United States and Britain. Former US senator Dick Black has emphasised that the Muslim Brotherhood represents the “smiling face of terrorism” and has said that “it is time to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, and in the Middle East they are well aware of it.” If Britain is serious about fighting terrorism, the British government should repatriate Egyptian terrorists under investigation in Egypt. These individuals have blood on their hands in their countries of origin, and they should be handed over through Interpol. Yet, London seems to prefer to have these terrorists live in Britain.

The war on terror is currently ongoing, and Europe is not safe from terrorism. It should wake up to this fact, and realise that Britain, Germany, France, Belgium and Italy are hubs for first-generation terrorists, giving rise to the second and third generations who have committed terrorist attacks in these countries. The first generation is well trained in its work, and it will help terrorists who have escaped arrest in Iraq and Syria. Indeed, some 1,500 terrorists have entered Europe over the past few months. Those who think that first-generation extremists will report their newly arrived brothers to the authorities are wrong.

The attacks in the UK, France, Germany and other European countries will not be the last. When a new terrorist act occurs in these countries, the facts outlined above should be remembered. The counter-terrorism plan set out by President Al-Sisi should be noted. It should be remembered that the Arab Quartet is fighting terrorism on behalf of the world as a whole, including Europe and the United States.  

The resolve of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain against Qatar in order to make the world safe and protect gas and oil from terrorism should be remembered, as should their resolve to keep energy flowing safely and ensure security, peace and stability in the region. This is the aim and objective of the Arab Quartet’s resolve against Qatar, and the West should remember this if it really wants to annihilate terrorism.


The writer is professor of politics and international relations at Monash University in Australia.

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