Qatar announced on Wednesday a program (09/08) to allow visa-free entry for citizens of 80 countries to encourage air transport and tourism amid a two-month boycott imposed on the Gulf state by its neighbors. (Reuters Photo/Thomas White)

Indonesia Should Remain Neutral, Act as Peace Facilitator in Qatar-Gulf Crisis: LIPI


JUNE 19, 2017

Jakarta. The Indonesian Institute of Sciences, or LIPI, said on Monday (19/06) that the Southeast Asian country should act as a peace facilitator in resolving the ongoing Qatar-Gulf diplomatic crisis.

"It’s important that Indonesia takes a careful, strategic approach, refraining from actions that could have a national impact or contribute to the existing regional tension in the Middle East," LIPI researcher Nostalgiawan Wahyudhi, who often goes by the name Wawan, told reporters.

Under President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, Indonesia’s foreign policy has been focused heavily on improving relations with countries in the Middle East, not unlike the policies of the country's first president, Soekarno, Wawan said.

Taking into account Indonesia’s relatively newfound position in the Muslim world, a careful foreign policy approach toward the tumultuous region is crucial.

"Indonesia can offer assistance as a peace facilitator, instead of a mediator. As a middle power, Indonesia has yet to possess the adequate diplomatic pressure toward the countries involved in the recent crisis, so its role as a mediator will prove to be ineffective," the researcher said.

Wawan added that Indonesia, as the world's largest Muslim-majority country, should offer to host peace talks between Qatar and the Gulf countries.

True to form, Indonesia has already shown readiness to contribute to the peace process and has expressed suggestions to create a peaceful dialogue.

Last Thursday, United Arab Emirates sent a special envoy, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Oweis, to meet with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who later told reporters UAE had agreed to an open dialogue and acknowledged that a political settlement is the only viable option to resolve the crisis.

"Indonesia is recognized in the [Middle East], it has this asset as a country with the largest Muslim population, so I believe it can play a role as a strategic peace facilitator," former Indonesian ambassador to Qatar, Deddy Saiful Hadi, said.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing the Gulf state of financing terrorist networks.

Qatar has denied the accusations, saying that "the measures are unjustified and are based on false and baseless claims."

The severance of diplomatic ties has resulted in immediate travel restrictions, suspensions of flights to and from Qatar and a closure of transport links.

Mauritania, the Maldives and Senegal have also cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. Other countries, such as Jordan and Djibouti, have downgraded their diplomatic relation with the Gulf state.

Wawan said that due to the current Gulf crisis, countries such as the United States, Russia and China, as well as intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations, could be effective mediators in the ongoing spat, should they take a neutral position.

Qatar: Anomaly in the Middle East

As part of LIPI’s research on the relationship between religion and politics across the Middle East and some parts of Africa, Wawan said his team predicted the likelihood of a diplomatic crisis in the Middle East if the Qatari government, under Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, did not change their interventionist foreign policy.

According to Wawan, the Qatari diplomatic crisis is rooted in the events of 1995 when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani took power as the country’s leader after successfully removing his father, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, from power.

Sheikh Hamad’s rise was opposed by Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East, though the Qatari Emir managed to conduct political and economic maneuvers to sustain international relations.

Under Sheikh Hamad, Qatar took up the role as a regional mediator in the region, angering Saudi Arabia, which has considerable influence in the Middle East. Qatar also adopted a vastly different policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and other pro-democracy groups that are disdained by other Gulf states.

Furthermore, Wawan explained that Qatar engaged in interventionist politics through Doha-based state-run news broadcaster Al Jazeera, referred to as the "Al Jazeera Effect," in which the media company conducted tough reporting that reduced a government and mainstream media monopoly on information in the region.

Qatar has since continued to adopt policies and stances that are at odds with regional powers and which previously led Saudi Arabia to pull its ambassador from Doha in 2002. In 2014, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE also recalled their ambassadors from the Qatari capital.

In an exclusive interview broadcast with CNBC television last week, Qatari Finance Minister Ali Shareef Al Emadi responded to the effects of the ongoing spat on his country, and said that reports about his country are mere propaganda.

"We know that all these things are really to put the propaganda against Qatar and to make all these allegations to weaken our point of views here and to really encourage the international community to take some stands against Qatar," Al Emadi said.