Qatar’s FM Warns of the Risks of Fake News on Global Security

HE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani warned of the risks posed by the misleading and fake news, stressing that it may constitute an international threat, especially with the development of technology and the growing use of social media.

His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin
Abdulrahman Al-Thani
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs @MBA_AlThani_
giving honest and transparent answers to some of the most pressing issues in global security today, fascinating interview with Ali Velshi @AliVelshi

Speaking at a session held within the framework of the 2019 Global Security Forum which aims to explore the security challenges posed by the proliferation of modern disinformation, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the phenomenon of misleading and fake news has become an international threat and can trigger wars that undermine world peace.

He noted that the current Gulf crisis and the blockade of the State of Qatar began with a cyber attack and the dissemination of false information that had later led to the eruption of the crisis which has been escalating since then, along with an unjust distortion campaign started before the blockade.

HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs called on the international community to address this phenomenon through a mechanism that would ensure the accountability of those who stand behind such misleading and false information campaigns.

In this context, HE highlighted the call of HH the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, in his address to the UN General Assembly last year, for an international consensus on cybersecurity and dealing with cyber threats, whether the act is from a state, entity or organization.

HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs added that there must be a global platform to make sure that those responsible for the media and even those who have access to social media will stop faking and misleading and to be responsible in case of accountability for any false information that could harm others.

He underlined that the government media message must be accountable and transparent, and this must be done through very transparent processes, and accordingly any government that misleads its people must be held accountable.

HE stressed that the State of Qatar works on building and strengthening its capabilities to counter cyber security threats and fight misleading and false information campaigns.

On the role of Al Jazeera Channel, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs explained that the channel started work in 1997 at a time when there was no independent Arab media to convey the correct information, and that matter was confined to the state media only.

He said that a number of Arab media networks that followed the emergence of Al Jazeera are not at the same level of credibility of Al Jazeera, which is sometimes criticized by some governments because they do not like what is published about them.

He noted that Qatar is paying the price of this free, responsible and transparent media, and if Al Jazeera had not started on that date in 1997, something like that would have happened one day or another.

HE stressed that the State of Qatar is more responsible with regard to freedom of expression, pointing to dozens of independent journalists who work in Qatar and talk about what is going on and what is going on outside, and criticize some of the decisions or positions of the government, and are not prosecuted or punished for this criticism. “This is unique to Qatar when compared to other countries in the region,” he added.

Asked how much freedom Al Jazeera enjoys, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the network’s employees belong to more than 100 nationalities. In front of such number and diversity, the government cannot influence the work of these journalists, direct them, or offer them bribes. If it does, dozens of journalists will certainly stand against this method which is contrary to the ethics of journalism and free media.

He noted that there are international media channels and networks sponsored by governments such as those in the United States, Britain and others but they are independent networks at the same time. He wondered why would people think that a state sponsoring a media organization cannot guarantee its freedom. “We have done this for 20 years and believe this is a great success.”

Regarding the fake news targeting Qatar, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs explained that the aim of such news is to put Qatar into a certain category such as talking about its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood or other organizations, adding, “This becomes a troublesome subject for all of us because we always make clear what we have and show that Qatar is a modern state and applies what it says, and we have a proven track record across various crises that our policy is consistent and our positions are clear in supporting the legitimate peoples and governments elected whatever the ideology of the ruling group as long as it works on the prosperity and welfare of its people.”

He stressed that some countries use this link as an easy way to demonize others, whether a state, organization or human rights activist, and it reached a point to accuse figures of different religions of being Muslim Brotherhood.

Regarding the accusations of Qatar’s relationship with Al-Nusra Front, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs denied any support or relationship between the State of Qatar and Al-Nusra Front or the Muslim Brotherhood or any of these organizations, noting that these accusations came from countries that were afraid to be swept with the wave of the Arab Spring.

He also explained that the support of the armed groups in Syria was carried out in a collective manner involving 20 countries, and all organizations were working under one umbrella where all the support goes to the operating room to be distributed to all categories of the armed opposition. “Everyone was supporting these groups in their bloc and we did not select or choose from these groups.”

He underlined that the State of Qatar has proved that it is consistent in its positions, and that its support is for the peoples not for movements or entities whatever their orientation, referring in this context to its support for Egypt before the revolution, and then when the military council took over, and later when the Egyptian people elected President Mohammed Morsi, and it continues to support Tunisia in all stages after the revolution, and is still until the moment when the Tunisian people elected an independent personality.

He noted that Qatar is the second largest investor in Tunisia, adding: “Our positions have been repeated in Somalia and Libya. We support legitimate governments as long as they take care of their people.”

He reiterated his denial of any link between Qatar and Al-Nusra Front, considering this accusation as part of the malicious campaigns against Qatar. He said that these allegations are illogical and contradict each others when they point to Qatar’s support for Al-Nusra Front and also Hezbollah who are fighting each others on the Syrian territory. “How would Qatar support both sides?” he asked.

On Qatar’s role of mediation in the release of hostages by some armed groups in Syria, HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani stressed that Qatar has played the role of mediator between the parties, and everyone was confident in its credibility, independence and integrity in mediation, this is the way by which Qatar built its trust in the world.

“We are a small country that does not have expansionist goals like some countries and that is why we have become a reliable partner for major countries. All interventions or support were for humanitarian reasons similar to the release of prisoners and hostages,” HE said.

He pointed to the successful experience of Qatar in sponsoring the Lebanese dialogue, saying that the reason for this success was because Qatar did not support or sponsor one party against another.

     “Our mediation has always been transparent and through international mechanisms. We do not go to this group or that to use it for the benefit of our country. We have no interest other than the stability of those countries,” he added.

On the relationship with Hamas, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs stressed that the State of Qatar does not support Hamas as a movement but supports it because it runs Gaza which is living in a tragic situation amid the deterioration of services due to the siege.

“We support the people of Gaza because the continuation of the tragic situation may lead to an explosion, and we look forward to a prosperous Gaza and all Palestine as well until a solution is reached. We support Gaza with development projects such as roads, hospitals, schools, electricity through transparent means and mechanisms under the auspices of the United Nations,” HE underlined.

Regarding the peace plan adopted by the United States, HE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that the United States said that it has a peace plan and the State of Qatar wants to find a just and equitable solution for the Palestinian people, however, it believes that any peace plan that will not include the two-state solution and recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and a clear fate for refugees and the right of return will not be a comprehensive peace plan or even a practical solution for the Palestinian people.

He stressed that the State of Qatar wants the occupation to end and a genuine and sustainable peace to prevail and that the solution be fair for everyone. If the “peace plan” is designed to serve only the Israelis, it will not be a viable solution and will not have a future, and if it is designed to serve the Palestinians without taking into account the concerns of the Israelis, it will not be comprehensive. Any peace plan must be accepted or rejected by both sides.

Asked about the ‘deal of the century’, HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said, “We do not know what the deal of the century is, and all the information that comes to us comes from unofficial parties and we cannot make a judgment without knowing its details.”

He noted that the State of Qatar was very clear in its position with the United States, and that the peace process must start from a common ground. He added that he Arab peace plan was “excellent” and “great work” and represented a good starting point. If they want to ignore this plan and start from scratch, it will be unacceptable and will prolong the crisis.

Regarding Doha’s position on the Turkish military campaign in Northern Syria, HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that the Republic of Turkey has tried to cooperate with the United States for more than a year to create a safe zone and end the threats on its borders posed by specific groups but they did not reach a solution. Turkey cannot wait for threats to move into their territory.

Turkey has a clear goal. They do not want to take over the Syrian territory and the places liberated by the Turkish army are in a much better position than others. There were no ethnic cleansing or violations, he added.

HE noted that there are many Turks with Kurdish origins and there are many prominent figures from the AKP itself from the Kurds. The matter is not related to race, Turkey is not targeting the Kurds as a race and people, but is targeting groups that are threatening its national security. This is the mission that Turkey is carrying out currently.

“We have priorities, we are with the peoples and with the right of self-determination and with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Arab countries and we do not want to see them divided. Our goal is to build a state of citizenship, not a state based on sectarian and ethnic, we want countries where every citizen has the same rights as other citizens,” HE added.

On the relationship between the State of Qatar and the Islamic Republic of Iran, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “Iran is a neighbor to us, and since the inception of the State of Qatar we have not seen any violent or aggressive behavior. We disagree on many issues in the region. We do not endorse some of their activities, and they do not endorse some of our activities, but there is an understanding that we are neighbors and we must coexist, and this relationship is based on mutual respect.”

HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs went on explaining, “Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is different. The people of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and all the peoples of the Gulf region are of one origin and of one social fabric and there is a special relationship between them.

He noted that the problem with Saudi Arabia is that “they want Qatar to be a mere subordinate to the Saudi policy and we cannot accept this situation. We respect Saudi Arabia as a big country, and they should respect us as a sovereign country and respect our opinion, and this is our way of dealing with all other countries.”

He added that Iran stood by the Qatari people in the face of the blockade and provided all the facilities until they became a partner and an important element for Qatar. “We do not want our relationship with any country to affect or reflect on our relationship with another.”

On the role of the State of Qatar in bringing the views of the United States and Iran closer, he said, “We have a strong alliance with the United States in the fields of defense, security, economy, education and others, and there is always mutual trust between us as we continue on this path.”

“If we find a conflict between our friends and allies with our neighbor, our role is to calm down this conflict because if the interests of our ally are affected, we will also be affected. Our role must therefore be to defuse this conflict. We are not mediating between the United States and Iran, but we are trying to have something between them that preserves our security. That is our duty and our work,” HE added.