Defend Qatar, Defend al-Jazeera

The Saudi-led blockade of Qatar should concern us all. It is virtually an act of war for one country, Saudi Arabia, to cut off all land access to another, Qatar, and then combine with two other countries, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to restrict air and sea access.

The aim is to make Qatar a vassal state, obeying Saudi Arabia’s orders and not allowing any dissent. One of the

13 Saudi demands

is that Qatar close its liberal TV channel al-Jazeera, which allows a range of viewpoints, including some critical of the Saudi dictatorship.

All the Saudi demands challenge Qatar’s sovereignty. Qatar is ordered to weaken its diplomatic and economic ties with Iran, close the small Turkish military base, and eject exiles who’ve fled persecution in other Middle Eastern countries.

Of course, the Saudi message that plays best in the West is the demand for Qatar to stop supporting terrorist groups. Qatar denies it is aiding any such groups, and says Saudi Arabia has not provided any evidence. Throughout the Syrian civil war there have been accusations that Gulf states have been funding rebel groups – although Saudi Arabia has been put in this frame as much, or more, than Qatar. Certainly the extreme conservative ideology of the Saudi kingdom is much closer to that of Islamic State or al-Qaeda than is the relatively liberal ideology of the Qatari sheikdom.

Despite posturing as advocates of democracy, Western governments have done little to challenge the Saudi-led blockade. Somehow when comes to criticising Saudi Arabia, a major oil state, the West goes quiet.

Ordinary New Zealanders are directly affected by the crisis. We are lucky that al-Jazeera plays here on Sky and Freeview. If it goes down we lose a major source of independent journalism. The channel commonly covers issues, particularly in the global South, which are ignored by the Western media. Our government should be bold enough to speak out in al-Jazeera’s defence.