For nearly four years, the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have believed they could persuade, if not compel, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, to provide diplomatic, economic and military support for the destruction of Qatar. Over the past few weeks that dream has gradually faded away, leaving behind a number of international diplomatic issues that constitute a real own goal for those who have tried this ruthless strategy.
Only weeks before the decision to organize a cartel of nations to place embargoes on Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh were still convinced that the United States could be part of the coalition and perhaps even accept a military invasion. Instead, lobbyists from the two Persian Gulf countries are now in trouble – under investigation or even in jail – and Trump not only declined this puppet role but, after some hesitation early in his presidency, confirmed the continued existence of a large US military base in Qatar. Today, he continues to promote US affairs with Qatar as individual sanctions arising from the embargo are declared illegal, one by one, by international trade and diplomatic regulators.
The decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ)
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague
As Donald Trump pointed out several times later in his presidency, this embargo poses a new threat in the Middle East, in part because it led the Doha government to ally with the only possible partners in this situation: Iran and Turkey. Both, admittedly undemocratic, regimes are ambitious to play a role as great powers in the global political and military spectrum. These are alliances which terrify other Arab states. To demonstrate its friendship with Qatar, the US Presidency hosted the Doha Peace Treaty Conference, which ended the long-standing war with the Taliban.
In fact, on June 14, 2019, the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) rejected a first appeal by the coalition against the Doha government’s request to rule on the airspace ban. On July 31, 2020, this first verdict led to a second, much more important verdict; the ICJ rejected an appeal filed by the Emirates and Saudi Arabia to prevent a decision by the Executive Council of ICAO (the World Authority for aviation). After a series of hearings that will end on September 7, 2020, bans on Qatari flights, whether by states or private companies will likely be defined as illegal and prohibited.
The complaint filed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain argued that neither the ICJ nor ICAO have jurisdiction to resolve the dispute. With the judgment of the International Court of Justice of July 14, 2020, the United Nations made it clear that it wanted to force member countries of the anti-Qatar coalition to end the embargo immediately, and Donald Trump has already announced that he would support the decision of the ICJ. In the meantime, Qatar Airways has announced that it will go to court to obtain compensation from the signatory countries for the closure of its airspace, if this is declared illegal. The Qatari airline has suffered serious damage as a result of the embargo. In one night, 18 of its most profitable routes were suspended indefinitely, including the route to and from Dubai, which for Qatar Airways meant twenty flights per day in high season.
We hope this move will end three difficult years in which the civil aviation industry around the world has responded to growing tension and fears that a passenger plane could be deliberately or accidentally shot down – much like what happened in 2014 during the Russia-Ukraine war. Indeed, this decision sparked hysteria in Iran, which shot down an American drone crossing commercial routes of civilian flights in June 2019. Following this incident, other airlines besides Etihad and Qatar Airways rerouted or canceled their routes with the Middle East and India: Lufthansa, KLM, United Airlines, Qantas, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Air Astana.
The role of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
The ICAO headquarters in Montreal
The global Treaty on Civil Flight in the Earth’s Atmosphere (Chicago Convention or ICAO International Civil Aviation Organization) was signed on December 7, 1944 and then extended and modified into the current version, Document 7300/9. The last version of December 3, 2010 was unanimously adopted and signed by all member countries of the United Nations.
This document recognizes the inalienable right (which also applies in the event of war) that each contracting party has to cross the airspace of another country, to land anywhere, to load or unload passengers and goods, to carry out maintenance or refueling, as well as in the event of an accident and emergency. Likewise, each country has the right to designate certain special zones as no-fly zones for reasons of national security. Everyone is prohibited from using weapons against civilian flights. In the event of a dispute the decision is that of the Council of ICAO, made up of representatives of 36 member states. If a member state’s interests are affected by a decision of this council, the arbitration procedure of the Permanent International Court of Justice (ICJ), the ultimate judicial authority, is invoked. Anyone who does not comply with the decisions of this tribunal will be suspended and their rights revoked.
For this reason, the Doha government appealed to ICAO immediately after the June 5, 2017 decision to ban Qatar Airways (and all other Qatari-owned airlines) from crossing the coalition’s airspace, requiring that the flight ban be lifted. Such a ban has only one precedent in history, and then for purely commercial reasons. In 2016, Delta Airlines requested that Qatar Airways be banned from flying to Atlanta, because this flight would have violated previously established bilateral agreements. The demand for this ban followed a long controversy in which US airlines complained of commercial aggression (dumping) by Middle Eastern airlines competing with US flights. This dispute was settled by a compromise signed by the Trump presidency.
The four countries immediately filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that ICAO was not the competent authority to rule on the airspace enclosure adopted against Qatar. For the anti-Qatar coalition, the decision was taken as a necessary step in a much broader area, economic warfare against a state that funds religious terrorism. The thesis of Abu Dhabi and Riyadh is that the embargo is a military not a civil measure and was therefore taken to prevent the spread of terrorist acts organized by Doha and to protect its citizens from alleged Qatari threat: “The four states have decided to oppose the appeal because they believe that the organization can use its expertise, through the cooperation of the four states with the regional office of the organization in Cairo, to develop alternative air routes to Qatar that have been fully exercised in international airspace, taking into account the highest safety standards” . By “organization” we mean ICAO, which immediately after the decision of 5 June 2017 began to support Qatar Airways in the search for alternative routes, and announced that closure of the coalition’s airspace against Qatar is against the Chicago Convention.
On that day, June 5, 2017, the crisis between Qatar and the most loyal allies of Riyadh’s royal family reached the point of no return. The territory of Saudi Arabia completely surrounds the emirate of Doha, both by land and by sea. The Arabs closed the borders and ordered citizens of Qatar resident in Saudi territory or that of their allies (Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen, Maldives, Mauritania, Djibouti, Comoros, Niger, Gabon and the territorial government of Tobruk in Libya) to leave these countries within two weeks by revoking existing residence permits and trade agreements. Egyptian workers who were employed in Qatar (about 250,000 people) were forced to quit their jobs and were sent home. The Allies blocked Al-Jazeera television broadcasts and blacklisted 59 Qatari citizens who Saudi officials said were among the financiers of Islamic terrorism.
There are two main reasons for such hostility. First reason: Qatar maintains friendly relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is seen as a major threat to the survival of absolute monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, which felt imperilled during the months of the Arab Spring when the people took to the streets to demand freedom and democracy, as well as the end of medieval tyranny. Pro-democracy demonstrators often only found the Muslim Brotherhood as a possible point of contact, as happened in Egypt. Riyadh’s reaction was violent and led to the financing of the Egyptian military coup that led to the establishment of the ruthless police regime of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. The second reason for the anger against Qatar is that, in order to free itself from the Saudi yoke, that country chose two repugnant allies, Iran and Turkey, both also brutal and undemocratic regimes.
However, the embargo against Qatar not only proved ineffective, but also constituted a serious political and diplomatic error. The mistake the UAE and Saudi Arabia made was in truly believing, in the blind anger of their leaders, that it would be possible to convince the US that the tragic mistake already made over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq should be repeated in Qatar. The outcome would have been to start a war in the Middle East, in a context where the other interested powers (Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, Israel, European Union) would have been firmly opposed to it. So how was it possible that this error occurred? Who convinced the Saudi royal family and the Bin Zayed Al Nahyan clan to pursue this strategy?
Two puppeteers promise to ‘control’ Donald Trump
Elliott Broidy, Donald Trump, George Nader
The answer to these questions can be found in Donald Trump’s advisory staff in the United States. In order to harm Qatar and calm their paranoia, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi were in fact willing to spend any amount of money and believe any pied piper. In the twelve months leading up to the June 5, 2017 decision, Abu Dhabi strongman Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan negotiated with two specific figures, Elliott Broidy and George Nader. Together, they planned the military invasion of Qatar, since Nader, who spent several years in the Emirates, had a very strong professional relationship with Mohammed Bin Zayed. The latter agreed to invest a billion dollars in the two partners proposals and in Trump’s presidential campaign. In return the United States was to support the sanctions against Qatar, form and arm a special force of 5,000 Muslim extremists, and sell computer interception systems and other electronic military tools.
Broidy started out as a broker for Arthur Andersen. He then, over the years, founded his own investment firm and became a billionaire, mostly with the film industry and though his company Circinus Llc, Arlington, Virginia, which has military contracts for several hundred million dollars with the United Arab Emirates. As Broidy and Nader promised the Saudis to convince Trump to support an invasion of Qatar, Circinus negotiated an additional military contract with Saudi Arabia for more than $650 million.
Broidy was uniquely positioned to convince Trump, as he had been finance chairman of the Republican National Committee since 2005. In that capacity, it was he who oversaw fundraising for the Bush family, several prominent Republican politicians, and, ultimately, Donald Trump. All of this was despite the fact that he had already been convicted of fraud several times and had made illegal transactions with the New York Pension Fund and with some Israeli business partners. Trump knew only too well that Broidy was bragging publicly that he was able to force him to make difficult decisions and to carry out tough and controversial diplomatic acts.
George Nader is a Lebanese-born businessman who worked for years for Erik Prince, the owner of the military security company Blackwater, whose mercenaries were given severe sentences in 2015 for the massacre of 14 unarmed civilians in Nisor Square in Baghdad in 2007 and are still under suspicion of committing other crimes. Nader was a personal advisor to Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the most powerful man in the UAE, an activity which has not always been very transparent. By the time criminal investigations opened in 2017, some of Donald Trump’s key staff were in serious trouble after allegedly participating in attempts to rig the 2016 presidential election. George Nader was one of them and immediately negotiated a whistleblower position.
Nader didn’t just ask for help with Trump’s election campaign in Russia. In 2016, he hosted a meeting at Trump’s, to which he invited Blackwater boss Erik Prince, well-known Israeli campaign expert Joe Zamel, himself head of a controversial private military spy company, and the son of Donald Trump. Nader presented himself as a representative of the government of the United Arab Emirates, which he said was prepared to support the election campaign in exchange for Trump’s international policy against Qatar. At the same time, still with the intention of helping Trump, Nader had poured large sums of money from discredited figures into Hillary Clinton’s campaign coffers in the hope that this fact would spark a scandal against the Democratic candidate. This was discovered and Nader was charged, as an outcome of investigations into the illegal manipulation of the 2016 presidential election.
Nader’s attempts to avoid the criminal consequences of his role in the election campaign failed due to his sex crimes. Nader was first convicted in 1991 for possession of pedophile material and sentenced to one year in prison in 2002 in the Czech Republic for ten cases of pedophilia. Nader was not satisfied with this and then kidnapped a 14-year-old boy in Prague and took him to the United States to rape him, which is why he was then sentenced to ten years in prison. After Erik Prince publicly distanced himself from the two lobbyists, Mohammed Bin Zayed discovered that he had relied on two advisers who are at the very least embarrassing.
The parallel media campaign
The thousands of pilgrims who visit Mecca
As already mentioned, the initial plan of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi had provided for a possible military invasion. The starting point was the embargo but action was not limited to the closure of airspace to Qatari planes. Saudi Arabia and its allies blocked the broadcast of Al Jazeera TV channel and the ability to read Qatar-based websites, to prevent people from being confronted with the Doha point of view. Bahrain has even passed a law criminalising those who publicly express their sympathies toward Qatar.
The anti-Qatar alliance not only made official decisions, but also made use of propaganda in order to undermine the confidence of Qatari citizens in their government. A few days after the embargo took effect, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Anwar bin Mohammed Gargash claimed that Qatar had blocked a website explaining to the citizens of Qatar how to get to King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah without using Qatar Airways planes. This followed a press release from the Saudi ministry for Hajj and Umrah (ritual pilgrimages to Mecca for all Muslim believers), with the aim of making it seem that the Doha government had banned Qatari Muslims from going on pilgrimage out of spite. (Gargash later worked with Donald Trump to prepare the August 19, 2020 statement announcing the alliance between the Arab Emirates United and Israel.)
A few days later, it turned out that this statement was not correct. These very complex pilgrimages for a large number of people are organized by special travel agencies that obtain temporary tourist permits for pilgrims from the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. What really happened? In fact, all the permits for Qatari citizens were suspended, and when Arabia announced that it had opened a new website to organize the trip, the booking link on that website was disabled.
Television rights are another battleground. The Al Jazeera group controls the majority of the beIN group, a pay-TV system that broadcasts major world sporting events in all Arabic-speaking countries. On June 7, 2017, Saudi Arabia blocked these channels, which were then illegally broadcast on BeoutQ, a Saudi pirate channel. In October 2018, Al Jazeera sued Saudi authorities in the World Trade Organization tribunal for $ 1 billion in damages. The process continues and the battle continues on several other fronts, especially as several countries have decided to fight for the end of beIN’s monopoly on sports broadcasting. But even on this front, the sanctions adopted by Saudi Arabia and its allies have so far proved ineffective.
Anwar Gargash and Kellyanne Conway
Anwar bin Mohammed Gargash (left) and Kellyanne Fitzpatrick Conway (right)
Anwar bin Mohammed Gargash is a key figure in the question of the embargo against Qatar. Anwar, the descendant of a wealthy and powerful family, was for years the head of Gargash Enterprises Llc, Dubai (now replaced by his children), a company which has been the region’s largest car dealership since 1918 and is now the exclusive importer of Mercedes Benz. The company also offers a wide range of services in automobile and passenger transport.
Gargash Enterprises (which represents Sixt Rental in the Emirates) has an annual turnover of around $ 740 million. The company is, since May 2019, a member of the Car Dealers Business Group Plc Dubai consortium which is one of the largest companies in the country with a turnover of nearly 60 billion DH (approximately 13.7 billion USD). Thanks in part to public subsidies, it is very active in the production of advanced technologies for the production of driverless cars, vehicle tracking devices and other partly civilian/partly military innovations which are still in development, including some innovations for the boating industry which were showcased at the 2020 Dubai International Boat Show.
Anwar Gargash graduated from George Washington University in 1984, from which Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign manager and still his most prominent and loyal political adviser, graduated seven years later. She is also a controversial figure; she is the director of the disinformation campaign that tried to slander Hillary and Bill Clinton by claiming they took money from Qatar and from terrorist organizations during the various election campaigns in which they participated. This turned out to be a massive exaggeration; the Clinton Foundation accepted money which came from among others, the United Arab Emirates, but after the election campaign, not during it. The Clinton Foundation then used these donations for charitable causes.
Conway didn’t stop there. To convince Donald Trump to support the crusade against Qatar, she invented an attack by two Iraqis on American soil, the so-called Bowling Green Massacre, named after a town in Kentucky, which was said to have been the scene of a ‘terrorist attack’; an attack that never happened! Caught in the act and then charged with spreading further colossal lies on various subjects, Conway argued that their lies were not real lies, but simply “alternative truths“ as described in “Animal Farm” and “1984” by George Orwell. Her career ended in August 2020: driven by the fact that her husband and daughter had repeatedly declared that they were ashamed of her, and that they felt “devastated” by her lies, she decided to retire before the start of a new grueling election campaign.
The lies about the Clintons led Trump to take a very rigid stance against Qatar early on in his presidency; this has changed over the years as his personal expertise in Middle Eastern affairs has grown. At the time of the embargo, Trump and Conway were in Riyadh to meet with leaders of the anti-Qatar alliance. On June 6, a day after the embargo, Trump raised the possibility that the United States would also introduce bans to prevent the entry of citizens of different nations, which he and Conway called “dangerous“.
Conway’s main Middle East adviser was apparently Elliott Broidy, who had explained to Trump that Qatar was part of an “axis of evil“, like North Korea and Iran. When Broidy got into trouble, Anwar Gargash, who had been an unofficial adviser to Trump and Conway since 2016 and who, under Obama’s presidency, convinced the US federal administration to create the Sawab Center – a system sharing agency, who was active against the Caliphate during the Coalition years – was personally forced to deny that he or anyone else in the UAE government ever manipulated Trump’s policies, that they have never participated or attempted to fund Donald Trump’s campaign.
Thus, it appears that behind the decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to impose an embargo on Qatar, was a group of lobbyists and advisers who apparently aimed to get rich commissions from the four countries, once they had convinced Donald Trump to adopt an aggressive and militarist political line against Qatar. Elliott Broidy, George Nader, Kellyanne Conway and Erik Prince are very discredited figures who convinced Anwar Gragash and Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan during the 2016 presidential campaign that, thanks to them, Qatar would be erased from the maps. Now, three years later, that failed plan is gradually being dismantled by courts around the world.
 https://apnews.com/7dec03bc5b8148278a9f4dd42b3adba0 ; https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/donald-trump-qatar-combating-terrorism-180115194455464.html ; https://scholarship.rice.edu/bitstream/handle/1911/99690/bi-brief-012218-ces-qatarembargo.pdf?sequence=1
 https://ahvalnews.com/qatar-turkey/qatar-iran-turkey-alliance-erodes-regional-security-arab-weekly ; https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-makes-fresh-attempt-to-resolve-saudi-qatar-feud-11591201000 ; https://insidearabia.com/the-us-latest-attempts-to-resolve-the-gulf-feud-may-prove-futile/
 “Each contracting State agrees that all aircraft of the other contracting States, being aircraft not engaged in scheduled international air services shall have the right, subject to the observance of the terms of this Convention, to make flights into or in transit non-stop across its territory and to make stops for non-traffic purposes without the necessity of obtaining prior permission, and subject to the right of the State flown over to require landing. Each contracting State nevertheless reserves the right, for reasons of safety of flight, to require aircraft desiring to proceed over regions which are inaccessible or without adequate air navigation facilities to follow prescribed routes, or to obtain special permission for such flights. Such aircraft, if engaged in the carriage of passengers, cargo, or mail for remuneration or hire on other than scheduled international air services, shall also, subject to the provisions of Article 7, have the privilege of taking on or discharging passengers, cargo, or mail, subject to the right of any State where such embarkation or discharge takes place to impose such regulations, conditions or limitations as it may consider desirable” – see https://www.icao.int/publications/Documents/7300_cons.pdf, Art. 5
 https://www.icao.int/publications/Documents/7300_cons.pdf, Art. 84 and 85
 https://www.flightradar24.com/blog/qatar-gets-a-win-as-icj-rules-in-its-favor-over-air-blockade-by-neighbors/ ; https://simpleflying.com/united-nations-sides-with-qatar-over-airspace-blockade-case/
 Islam Khalid Hassan, “GCC’s 2014 crisis: Causes, Issues and Solutions” Golf Cooperation Council 2015, retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/12696782/GCCs_2014_Crisis_Causes_Issues_and_Solutions ; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-40173757 ; https://www.inss.org.il/publication/qatar-crisis-causes-implications-risks-need-compromise/
 https://www.blesk.cz/clanek/zpravy-krimi/648067/podnikatel-vyvezl-z-ceska-chlapce-14-kvuli-sexu-soud-ho-poslal-na-10-let-za-mrize.html ; https://www.novinky.cz/zahranicni/clanek/americky-lobbista-ktery-byl-v-minulosti-odsouzen-v-cesku-platil-trumpovu-sponzorovi-40064624
 https://www.thenational.ae/world/qatar-s-attempt-to-block-hajj-pilgrims-is-disgraceful-gargash-says-1.756727 ; https://www.thenational.ae/world/gcc/saudi-launches-new-hajj-website-for-qataris-despite-efforts-to-block-1.752926
 https://www.ibtimes.com/who-kellyanne-conway-trump-aide-turns-down-white-house-press-secretary-post-2459249 ; https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/17/kellyanne-conways-political-machinations
 https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2207778-animal-farm-a-fairy-story ; https://www.writersdigest.com/be-inspired/12-thought-provoking-quotes-from-1984-by-george-orwell ; https://www.panmacmillan.com/blogs/literary/george-orwell-quotes-1984-animal-farm
 https://www.voanews.com/usa/us-politics/uae-denies-trying-meddle-2016-us-election ; https://www.arabianbusiness.com/politics-economics/397184-uae-made-no-effort-to-influence-us-election-anwar-gargash