Qatar emir accuses blockade countries of wanting 'regime change'

Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani accused Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies of seeking to topple his government.
Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani accused Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies of seeking to topple his government.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP, REUTERS) - Qatar's emir in an interview airing on Sunday (Oct 29) accused Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies of seeking to topple his government with its nearly five month old political and economic embargo of the tiny Gulf state.

"They want a regime change. It's... so obvious," Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani told CBS' 60 Minutes.

"History as well tells us, teaches us they tried to do that before, in 1996 after my father became the emir. So, and they made it also so obvious in the last couple of weeks."

The Gulf crisis erupted June 5 when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, imposing economic sanctions as it accused the emirate of supporting terrorism and of becoming too close with Shiite rival Iran.

Riyadh and its allies closed land and maritime borders, suspended air links and expelled Qatari citizens. Doha denies the charges.

"They don't like our independence, the way how we are thinking, our vision for the region," Sheikh Tamin said on Sunday.

"We want freedom of speech for the people of the region. And they're not happy with that. And so they think that this is a threat to them."

Qatar’s ruler said he is ready for US-hosted direct talks aimed at solving the worst diplomatic crisis in the Gulf in years but has yet to hear a response to US President Donald Trump’s invitation to the four Arab states boycotting Doha.

Trump, who has said he would be willing to mediate in the dispute, said in September he had a “very strong feeling” it would be solved “pretty quickly”. 

Earlier in September, Saudi Arabia suspended any dialogue with Qatar, accusing it of “distorting facts,” just after a report of a phone call between the leaders of the two countries suggested a possible breakthrough in the dispute. 

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke by phone with Qatar’s emir on Sept 8 in the first publicly reported contact between the two leaders since the crisis began.  There has been no further contact reported since then.

 In the CBS interview, Sheikh Tamim reiterated that Qatar would not close down the Doha-based Al Jazeera television network, as demanded by the four countries who accuse the broadcaster of bias and interfering in their affairs. 

Al Jazeera says it is an independent news service giving a voice to everyone in the region.  Sheikh Tamim also said he feared for the region if any military actions were taken as part of the crisis.