Gulf rumpus as Qatar says report of emir’s speech was faked

Hot on the heels of Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and the festivities surrounding it, a new feud has erupted among the Arab Gulf states. The Saudis and Emiratis are blocking the websites of al-Jazeera and other Qatari news sources. Qatar, meanwhile, says reports of a controversial speech by the emir were faked and resulted from hacking of the government news agency by “an unknown entity”.

An item posted on the Qatar News Agency’s website purportedly quoted remarks made by the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, at a military graduation ceremony.

The emir was quoted as saying “there is no wisdom in harbouring hostility towards Iran” — apparently contradicting one of the key themes of the Saudi-organised jamboree with Donald Trump last weekend.

The emir was also quoted as speaking of “tensions” with Trump and noting the legal problems he faces regarding links with Russia.

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According to the report, the emir said Qatar’s relations with Israel are “good”, though it regards Hamas as the official representative of Palestinians.

These alleged remarks caused an immediate stir in the Gulf, since as far as last weekend’s Trumpfest is concerned they would be very much off-message (if accurately reported). Qatar insists the report was false but it would not be unduly surprising if the words attributed to the emir did reflect his private view.

Less plausibly, Qatar was also reported to be withdrawing its ambassadors from Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — a claim which, again, Qatar has denied.

The website of Qatar News Agency is currently off-line, apparently because of the reported hacking. So far today there have been no new posts from the agency’s Twitter feed either.

A story posted today on the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya website quotes the Qatar News Agency’s report of the emir’s alleged speech without mentioning Qatar’s denial or the hacking claim. It does, however, report the Qatari foreign ministry’s denial that ambassadors are being recalled.

Another story posted today on al-Arabiya reports the blocking of Qatari websites by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It says:

“The block on these site[s] follow[s] statements made by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani late Tuesday, in which he said that Doha has ‘tensions’ with Trump’s administration, and acknowledged that Iran is an ‘Islamic power’.”

Again, there is no mention in the story that the remarks attributed to the emir have been denied.

Meanwhile, reporting from the UAE in Arabic, Sky News Arabia purports to have a video confirming the emir’s remarks. It invites people to “watch the speech of the Emir of Qatar on official television”.

The video shows the emir at the military ceremony where he allegedly made the speech but does not show him actually speaking. A voiceover commentary describes what he is alleged to have said — apparently based on the Qatar News Agency report which is now said to have been a fake.

Qatar also claims to have been subjected to a smear campaign ahead of Trump’s visit to the Middle East.

Originally published at al-bab.com.

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: www.al-bab.com. Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

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