Qatar and Saudi princes meet secretly in Italy

By AMI Staff Reporter


Qatar’s ruler was harshly criticized in a private conversation between Qatari and Saudi princes, according to Italian and Spanish-language press reports—opening the possibility of a negotiated regime change in that turbulent Arab peninsula nation.

Qatar’s former prime minister met with the younger brother of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in Italy in the past few days, according to a report in the Spanish-language news site El Noticiario. That news outlet, in turn, cited unnamed sources.

Reportedly, Qatar’s emir was criticized for funding terror groups, promoting extremism on state-run Al Jazeera television networks, and squandering public money on ego-driven projects, likely including Qatar’s failed bid to win the chairmanship of the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (universally known by its acronym, UNESCO) and its failed attempt to host the World Cup, the “super bowl of soccer.”

This marks a sharp departure from the usual polite formality that accompanies meetings of this kind—suggesting the conversation was intentionally leaked to the press by its participants. In turn, the press accounts may be a kind of message to Qatar’s ruler that he is losing support among his relatives, who are essential to maintaining his grip on power.

Since the Qatari and Saudi princes are not only members of the ruling families, but close relatives of the rulers, of their respective countries, their involvement suggests a backchannel negotiation is now beginning—or may be already underway.

In that confidential conversation, Qatar’s ruler was faulted for his handling of the trade and diplomatic blockade that put his nation at odds with Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Those nations closed their air and sea ports to Qatar, halted most financial transactions and withdrew their ambassadors in June 2017. Their complaints ranged from what they see as pro-terrorist messages on Qatar’s Al Jazeera networks, funding of Hamas and other groups designated as terrorists by the U.S. Staten department, financial support and safe haven for Muslim Brotherhood leaders and a cozy relationship with Iran, that is developing nuclear weapons and the long-range rockets to carry them. The other Gulf Arab states see Iran as a mortal threat.

Specifically, Qatar’s ruler was faulted for listening too much to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni network that preaches a return to seventh-century Islam and promotes a model of government inspired by the Koran and Sharia law.

Who was reportedly in the meeting is as important as what was discussed.

Qatar’s former prime minister and former foreign minister, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, is known for negotiating thorny regional conflicts. He is credited with successfully leading the peace talks between Sudan and Chad in 2009, and Djibouti and Eritrea in 2010. He has also a leader in peace talks in Darfur and Yemen, which resulted in ceasefires. He is also the great-nephew of the founder of modern-day Qatar, an important fact in a region where family lineage connotes both formal and informal power. Al Jazeera, in 2013, hailed him as “one of the most powerful men” in Qatar.

Reportedly, he met with Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Said, a younger brother of the ruling Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.  Khalid bin Salman is also a brother to Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Said, the influential former intelligence chief of the oil kingdom.

In short, the meeting of regional powerbrokers suggests a sea-change is afoot. Or not. The Arab World has seen similar reports over the past year, with little movement in the regional stalemate.

Rumors swirled in August 2017 that Qatar’s ruler may be replaced by a family member, Abdullah Bin Ali Al Thani, who was more willing to negotiate with neighboring Arab states. To raise his standing in Qatar, the Saudi king credited Abdullah Bin Ali Al Thani with securing a one-month reprieve on the travel ban to allow Qataris to make an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, according to Asia Times.

While the dispensation was real, regime change did not follow.

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