A Chair is at the Center of a Conspiracy Theory About ‘Detained’ Qatari Royal

Published January 15th, 2018 - 12:02 GMT
Is this the same chair? Emiratis claim it is (Albawaba/Rami Khoury)
Is this the same chair? Emiratis claim it is (Albawaba/Rami Khoury)

by Rosie Alfatlawi

When a Qatari royal previously tipped as Saudi Arabia’s intended replacement for Doha’s Emir issued a statement claiming to be detained by the U.A.E. it was already a bizarre twist.

But a chair-related conspiracy theory circulating online takes the strange factor even further.

In a video released Sunday Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali al-Thani suggested he was being held by Abu Dhabi’s crown prince who would be “fully responsible” if anything happened to him.

One particular visual detail of the footage caught the eye of some in the Gulf, however. Saudis and Emiratis quickly honed in on the furnishings to allege via Twitter that the clip was filmed not from the U.A.E. but rather from a studio belonging to Qatar's Al Jazeera.

“Ask Shafik about this chair and he’ll tell you it’s in Al Jazeera studio, not in Abu Dhabi,” tweeted @kontlak, referring to former Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik.

Two separate images of Shafik sat on apparently similar chairs to that used by Bin Ali were circulated on social media, although their origins are not clear. They certainly do not come from a video message broadcast on Al Jazeera in December announcing his intention to run for president.

Shafik himself had claimed last month that the U.A.E. was preventing him from travel before his lawyer alleged he had been deported back to Egypt. He withdrew his candidacy after returning to Cairo, reportedly under state pressure.

Is this chair in Abu Dhabi or at Al Jazeera channel?

Doha-based, state-funded network Al Jazeera has been at the center of the ongoing Qatar diplomatic crisis. Its closure was one of 13 demands issued towards the tiny Gulf state by boycotting neighbors the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt in June.

Furniture-related theories have formed part of wider claims that the most recent clip is an anti-Emirati scheme by the Qatari Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani.

Honorable families and the rubbish that are with you. Tell Azmi to change the chair so that the act works - its the same chair that Ahmed Shafik sat on that Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani [is sat on now], what a coincidence.

“The Hamdeen regime forces Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani to film a video in which he absolves the quasi-state of Qatar,” wrote @SF_SKD. “There is no state that detains a person and then allows him to shoot a video and absolve his opponents.”

In Sundays footage Bin Ali had said: "I'd like to inform you that if something happens to me, Qatar will be innocent of it."

"I'm currently in Abu Dhabi, being hosted by Sheikh Mohamed. But this is not a hosting status. Rather, it is a 'holding' one," he claimed.

Bin Ali had been embraced by Saudi Arabia over the summer, ostensibly as a figure to promote regional reconciliation. The brother of Qatar’s former ruler, he negotiated a compromise over Qatari Hajj pilgrims with the Saudi leadership.

It was also speculated that he could be at the heart of Saudi plans to impose regime change on Doha, although this was dismissed by Riyadh. 

Abu Dhabi has denied detaining Bin Ali, with state-run WAM later reporting that he had left the country “at his request.”

"A trusted source confirmed to me that Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani is free to leave the U.A.E. for any destination he chooses and he can leave whenever he likes," head of Abu Dhabi's Hedayah counter-extremism center Ali Rashid al-Nuaimi tweeted.

Still, Qataris on social media have pointed to an apparent pattern emerging of the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia being accused of holding foreign leaders.

"Hariri's abduction," tweeted @Nasser4Q, referring to the resignation of the Lebanese prime minister from Riyadh in November, "the detention of Ahmed Shafik, the holding of #Abdullah_bin_Ali_Al_Thani. This is the style of a gang and not of respected governments like the Gulf States."

As the confusion builds over alleged Emirati and Saudi intererence in regional politics, this most recent chair conspiracy theory has added a touch of the surreal.


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