Al-Jazeera controversy spills over to Gulf summit
Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia has decided to lower its level of representation at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)’s 23rd summit, scheduled to open Saturday, December 21, in Doha, Qatar. The Saudis are reportedly angered by Qatar’s refusal to restrain its highly popular Al-Jazeera satellite television, whose broadcasts are viewed as offensive by the rulers of its neighboring Gulf monarchies.
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who effectively rules Saudi Arabia since 1995, will abstain from attending the annual gathering of Gulf leaders, sending in his place Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal. In what is emerging as a ban on the Qatar summit, Bahrain’s King Shaikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa of has quickly followed suit while the attendance of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos Bin Said is still in doubt, reported AFP. Kuwait’s Emir Shaikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) President Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan will not attend because of ill health.
On the agenda of the regional coordination talks is a GCC customs union due to enter into force next month, as well as the threat of an American-led strike on Iraq and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence.
A meeting of the GCC’s ministers of information, held in October in the Omani capital of Muscat, issued a call for a boycott of the Doha-based TV channel, whose already struggling to find fresh financing sources, having lost many of its commercial advertisers to pressure exerted by the GCC member states, in a boycott campaign led by Saudi Arabia.
Boasting 35 million viewers throughout the world, Al-Jazeera is the most popular satellite TV channel in Saudi Arabia. It is mostly known in the West thanks to its exclusive broadcasting of Bin Laden tapes. Although privately held, the station in not fully independent from the Qatari government. Al-Jazeera was established in 1996 with a capital of $150 million, funded by the Emir of Qatar Sheik Hamad Bin.
Saudi officials have often voiced their discontent over what they describe as Al-Jazeera’s “deliberate and programmed assaults against the Kingdom and its leaders.” Riyadh went even farther in October by recalling its ambassador to Qatar, in protest over Al-Jazeera broadcasts perceived by Riyadh as critical of the Saudi royal family.
Acrimony between Qatar and Saudi Arabia has now spilled over to affect Qatar’s relations with Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt. In late August, the Jordanian government closed Al-Jazeera's office in Amman and recalled its ambassador for consultation, saying Jazeera had portrayed the kingdom's rulers as "puppets of the United States and Israel."
The Gulf emirate of Qatar occupies a tiny peninsula attached to the powerful kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with a population of 600,000. The two GCC member states have only recently concluded an agreement, which put an end to a decades’ old border dispute. While Qatar sits atop the world’s third largest gas reserves, its southern neighbor Saudi Arabia is home to a quarter of the world's oil reserves and is the world’s largest producer of oil.
The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Its goals are to effect coordination and integration between member states in all fields and formulating regulations in economy, finance, trade, customs, tourism, legislation, administration, as well as fostering scientific and technical progress in industry, mining, agriculture, water and animal resources. — (menareport.com)
© 2002 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)