President Isaias Afwerki arriving at Asmara International Airport from a 3-day working visit in Qatar in 2014. Accompanying him are Qatari diplomats.
On June 12, 2017 Eritrea released a press statement of supporting the Saudi-UAE coalition decision to mount diplomatic and economic pressure on Qatar for its active role of harboring and financing terrorist groups like Al Nusra, ISIL and Muslim Brotherhood which Qatar vehemently denied. In the press statement, Eritrea re-affirmed its credence and commitment that the measure taken by the coalition was just one step towards the right direction of securing peace and stability in the region. Thus, any cheap political hearsays and speculations cannot be allowed to overshadow the position of Eritrea. It was clearly stated in the press statement; the situation is not only confined to Qatar.
"The decision that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have taken is not confined to Qatar alone-as the potential of Qatar is very limited"
Understanding Eritrea is imperative to objectively see the reason behind its decision to support the coalition. After independence, the geopolitical calculation of East Africa changed dramatically. The government outlined a formidable diplomatic modus operandi in dealing with the issues related to East Africa and the Red Sea. The foundation of this indispensable approach is placing the long-term interest of the country at the forefront of formulating a plausible foreign policy. It is committed to the long-term interest of the country and its inexorably designed to create peace and stability in the region.
"Deterrence of the scourge and its perpetrators so as to guarantee sustainable security and stability is not an easy task. Indeed, it will require time concerted efforts. The foundations of Eritrea's foreign policy are predicated on these precepts."
So, exploring the role of Qatar in East Africa is significant.
What was the role of Qatar in the Middle East, North Africa and East Africa?
Even though the political and diplomatic breakdown between the GCC members was developing slowly, this magnitude of coordinated and systematic diplomatic and economic pressure turned out to be somehow shocking to the public. But, since the Arab spring many GCC members and Qatar have had rutted relationship. This grueling relationship cumulated in the recent meltdown that engulfed the gulf states into a diplomatic and political calamity. Coming into mutual understanding of delicate issues like' meddling in other countries internal affairs, financing terrorism and harboring opposition groups were some of the arduous issues difficult to solve.
When Arab Spring; a revolutionary wave of both violent and nonviolent demonstrations, protests, riots, coups and civil wars in North Africa and the Middle East began on 17 December 2010 in Tunisia with the Tunisian Revolution, Qatar played a pivotal role in inflaming the political shenanigan by supporting groups like Muslim Brotherhood and giving them a media outlet to further inflame the crisis. The outcome turned out to be fatal, not only to those countries that directly affected by the crisis but also the whole region.
Qatar used Aljazeera and other state-owned media outlets to implant a narrative that, the country was positively influential not only in the Middle East, but also in Eastern part of Africa. Qatar used this platform to increase international visibility Disseminate its own interpretation of domestic and foreign policies.
"Qatar’s political leadership astutely adopted a second instrument to achieve its foreign policy objectives, the television channel Al Jazeera. By transmitting sensational images and one-sided reports 24 hours a day and seven days a week, Al Jazeera became the most influential media network in the Middle East. It attracted millions of viewers, provoked heated public debates and thereby attained a lasting reputation." Institute of Security Studies
For the past 10 years, Al Jazeera followed a path of broadcasting what considered to be anti-Eritrea narratives. For example, on May 24, 2017 Al Jazeera posted an article on its website title;
"Remembering the Eritrean dream on Independence Day. Unfortunately, there is not much to celebrate on the 26th anniversary of Eritrea's independence."
This level of provocation from the state owned and funded Al Jazeera was baffling to many Eritreans. It is well documented, Al jazeera broadcasted an interview with H.E. President Isaias Afwerki in 2008. Throughout the interview the host grilled the president with fabricated stories displayed cheap political prostitution. But the government of qatar continues to reach out to the Eritrean government on wide range of issues including, peace and security of the region. This type of bipolar foreign policy strategy and unconventional diplomatic relations unavoidably put Qatar at odds with different countries.
It is widely accepted personification that Qatar was mediating the border issue between Eritrea and Djibouti, heavily investing in many East African countries, and actively working with other GCC members in Yemen. This narrative, whether true or false contributed to the formulation of somehow deceiving picture of Qatar and hyped its role in the Horn of Africa.
Coming to recent events, Eritrea released press statement on June 12, 2017, and on June 12 and 13, Qatar started pulling out of its peace keepers from Eritrea-Djibouti border. On June 14 Qatar officially announced that it was pulling out its forces from the border. And on June 16, 2017 an article surfaced on Al Jazeera allegedly accusing Eritrea of occupying disputed areas.
"Official says Eritrean soldiers occupied moved contested border territory, days after Qatar pulled its peacekeepers out. Djibouti's foreign minister has accused neighbouring Eritrea of occupying a disputed territory along their border shortly after Qatar peacekeepers left the location this week. Mahamoud Ali Youssouf said on Friday Djibouti's military was "on alert" and that it has lodged complaints to the United Nations and the African Union."
This cheap political prostitution is nothing more than a political propaganda designed to attack Eritrea for its diplomatic position on the Saudi-Qatar crisis. To make it a diplomatic drama, AUC chairperson Mr. Mousa Faki Maharret later posted on Twitter: "I told Djibouti's Ambassador Idris Farah the AUC will send a delegation to Djibouti border to monitor developments, work with all parties."
More puzzle to this cheap political prostitution is, the allegation of Eritrea occupying the contested border territories came simultaneously in two different websites. On June 16, 2017, Al Jazeera English posted the breaking news in the morning and at the same exact time Aaron Maasho of Reuters from Addis Ababa posted almost identical news on Reuters English website.
What was the role of Qatar in the Middle East?
In 2014 an agreement was signed between King Abdela of Saudi Arabia and Qatar on a wide range of issues related to the peace and security of the region. Some of the key points that were agreed and signed between the two countries includes;
I. Qatar Should stop meddling into countries internal affairs that were perceived inflammatory and destabilizing to the whole region by the GCC.
II. Qatar should stop funding and harboring terrorist groups in the region. For example, during the Arab Spring, one of the main mouthpiece and spiritual father of the Muslim Brotherhood Qaradai was living in Qatar.
III. Qatar should stop using its government owned media outlets such as Aljazeera as a platform for terrorists groups like Al Nusra.
During the Riyadh meeting Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Bahrain agreed that, there should be a coordinated and transparent cooperation which can guarantee peace and stability throughout the region. But one sticking point during the meeting was Qatar's refusal to denounce Iran from its destabilizing activities throughout the region. Even though all GCC countries agreed fundamentally, Iran was playing a disruptive role in the region, Qatar refused to call out Iran. This showed the megalomaniacal political game Qatar have been playing over the last 10 years.
When Iran started playing a disruptive role in the region, Eritrea called out Iran and reaffirmed its strategic relation with the GCC. For example, on January 5, 2016 a violent attack was perpetuated against the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, and Eritrea condemned the act by releasing a press statement.
"The government of Eritrea, reaffirms its strategic neighborly ties with Saudi Arabia and condemns the violation perpetuated against the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Tehran"
Qatar consistently perused a policy of supporting Saudi and Egyptian opposition groups in cooperation with Libya. In 2014 leaked phone call conversation between former leader of Libya and Colonel Muhammar Ghaddafi and Qatar’s leader Hamad Al-Thani revealed that, both countries supported and financed opposition groups. In the conversation, Hamad Al-Thani can be heard saying;
I. "Saad Al-Faqih (Saudi opposition leader) is running inside Saudi Arabia, and the numbers of the opposition are rising in mosques where people gather."
II. "We started Al-Howar channel in London, and we are the ones leading Al-Jeddah channel in Lebanon."
III "Their internal (the Saudi's) disagreement stops them from controlling the kingdom, and trust me we have to create this axis and support the internal movement quietly."
Qatar is a small nation of two million population positioned at a pivotal geographical location of the Middle East with a huge gas resource, Qatar follows unconventional foreign policy that kept the small Middle Eastern nation at odds not only with Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also countries far from its horizon. Its bipolar foreign policy, which sometimes can be pragmatic and sometimes fatal troubles neighboring countries considerably. As for Eritrea, its long-term interest warrants deep conviction and commitment to cooperate with its neighbors unconditionally.
"For the GOE, this is a timely issue that warrants its active support. Beyond its timely relevance, the issue is of paramount importance and will require formulation and refinement of a viable road map for the period ahead."