There are two competing visions for the future of the Middle East — one that empowers and supports leaders that are responsive to the demands of their people and another that uses intimidation, imprisonment and patronage to maintain an unstable status quo.
The State of Qatar has fostered a vision of the Middle East that supports people over tyrants. The United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia do not deny this. Instead, they claim our policies to be subversive. Then they build narratives that falsely present us as supportive of “extremists” and categorize various types of activists as “extremists.”
Two years ago this week, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain imposed an illegal blockade on Qatar because they find our approach to be a threat to their authoritarian vision of the region. Their collective vision seeks to subjugate through the repression of their populations and the maintenance of an unstable status quo. Our vision seeks to empower agents of change, and support leaders who are responsive to the demands of their people.
This deviation in approach stems from our neighbors, and their enablers, being unable to fathom the concept of citizens acting independent of the state. They have done everything in their power to stifle the fundamental freedoms of any person or country that dares to challenge their archaic ways. As the years have progressed, their actions to keep people under the thumb of autocratic rule have chipped away at their credibility to lead.
They have attempted to make Qatar subservient to their will by imposing a two-year air, land and sea blockade, ripping apart families in the process. They have waged a war in Yemen claiming to be supportive of the internationally recognized government, yet they also back a warlord who reignited Libya’s civil war and waged a campaign against the internationally recognized government in Libya.
They also wage a digital war that predates their illegal blockade. Online they spread misinformation, unsubstantiated claims and inflammatory rhetoric about those that oppose them. As credible reporting has revealed time and again, the UAE and Saudi Arabia used phone hacking, phishing, bots, fake websites, and false social media users to demonize Qatar, as well as human rights activists and their critics. Vast sums of money have been spent to target and takedown those that oppose them.
Their actions have had consequences for their targets — activists jailed, reputations sullied and fake news presented as fact in our region. They have made divisions worse, created rifts that will not soon heal, and fostered instability in the region. All this begs an important question — what is the end game of the UAE and Saudi Arabia?
While the UAE and Saudi Arabia are energized by the possibility of dominating large swaths of the Middle East and North Africa, their actions should give American policymakers pause as to whether these regimes’ adventurism could bring order and stability. These countries spend fortunes on bot armies and fake narratives instead of investing in the infrastructure necessary to fight terrorism and extremism within their own communities. They should not be rewarded with greater power and responsibility for their reckless behavior that is destabilizing the region.
For two years, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have attacked Qatar’s sovereignty and reputation, while attempting to bring back autocrats against the will of peoples across the Middle East and North Africa. These actions set a precedent for malign actors across the globe that will only propagate instability and inspire future dictators and warlords.
What our region needs now are leaders that remain steadfast in the pursuit of a vision that empowers and supports the needs of people. Qatar is still determined to pursue this vision, we look to our neighbors to cease their propaganda and underhanded methods and join us in this pursuit.
• Jassim Bin Mansour Al-Thani is media attache for the Government of the State of Qatar.