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Saudis and UAE Paid Extras to Protest Qatar in Attempt to Spoil Emir’s UK Visit

Saudis and UAE Paid Extras to Protest Qatar in Attempt to Spoil Emir’s UK Visit

Saudis and UAE Paid Extras to Protest Qatar in Attempt to Spoil Emir’s UK Visit
July 24
21:32 2018

LONDON — Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been accused of paying extras through a talent agency to protest the London visit of the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in an attempt to depict the Gulf country’s ruler as a figure loathed by the British public.

The emir is hoping to promote ties with friendly countries amid a bruising yearlong blockade by neighboring Arab states Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain.

According to emails sent to prospective members of the “rent-a-mob” by a company called Extra People, participants would be paid $25 to protest from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm outside the gates of Downing Street during a meeting between the Arab ruler and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.

On Monday, Twitter users began to circulate the email on Twitter, where Extra People said:

This is NOT a film or TV production. The company are looking for a large group of people to fill space outside Downing Street during the visit of the president of Quatar (sic). This is an ANTI-Quatar even[t] – You will not have to do or say anything, they just want to fill space. You will be finished at 12:30.”

New media site GizmodoUK, which first reported the story on Monday, quipped:

That’s right – if you want to turn up and look like a supporter of a cause you probably know nothing about, you could probably walk away with a twenty English pounds. Maybe if you’re lucky, it’ll get you enough visibility to get that gig as a dead body in Holby City.”

By Monday evening, the advertisements were the subject of mocking media reports speculating the involvement of Doha’s neighbors, causing Extra People to halt further booking, stating that “on reflection and discussion” it would no longer “be involved in such a project.”

The company told Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera that it had been contacted by a public relations agency called Neptune PR Ltd, which asked for 500 people to stand outside Downing Street. Extra People company director Tom Walker said:

As soon as we as a company became aware that it was a political demonstration, we immediately withdrew wanting no further part in this … We have never or will never supply artistes for any event that could be deemed racist or xenophobic and regret that we have even been caught up in this.”

Media outlets in Riyadh and the UAE have devoted significant coverage to the protests, veering far from the top-line angle prevailing in the British press about paid demonstrators and instead choosing to depict the event as a grassroots “barrage of protests” against “terrorism” and the “controversial circumstances” surrounding the visit.

Speaking to The Guardian, a Qatari diplomat said:

The blockading countries have a long history of using paid protesters to try and discredit those who do not agree with their views … Despite their latest attempts to spread lies about Qatar, the visit of HH [His Highness] the Emir has further strengthened the historic and strategic partnership between Qatar and the U.K.”

According to Abu Dhabi-based English-language newspaper The National, vans decorated with the slogan “Qatar is a terrorist state” also circled London in the days leading up to the visit. Such mobile van displays can easily be purchased by phone or by email from promotional agencies or outdoor advertising companies.

Other advertisements around London have addressed Qatar’s poor treatment of migrant workers, its maintenance of an absolute monarchy, and violently discriminatory laws against LGBTQ people.

On Tuesday, Riyadh-based English-language newspaper Arab News published a column from Majid Rafizadeh –  an Iranian-American supporter of the Iran-derived, Western-backed cult Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) – who urged Prime Minister May to demand that Doha “must stop buttressing Iran’s position and discontinue their casual attitude towards activities that support and sustain terrorism. If they refuse, then the emir should not be invited back again.”

Social media was also transformed into a field of battle between the Gulf Arabs, as thousands of tweets originating in Saudi Arabia flooded Twitter. The alleged bots, or fake accounts, posted similar tweets carrying the hashtag “#OpposeQatarVisit,” according to Qatari-owned, U.K.-based media outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

 

Roots of the Crisis

The Arab quartet severed diplomatic relations and imposed a land, air and sea blockade on Qatar last June, accusing the ruling Al Thani dynasty of conspiring with Iran, financing so-called “terrorist groups,” and sowing discord within the Gulf Cooperation Council states through broadcaster Al Jazeera — among a wide-ranging list of grievances.

Qatar has enjoyed relatively normal, if complicated, relations with Iran, which is seen as the top foe of the Saudi ruling dynasty and the extremist takfiri groups the Persian Gulf Arab states have funded for the past several decades. The ties have warmed since Qatar’s regional counterparts forced the country’s rulers to seek political and trade ties with other neighbors.

Israel has also supported the isolation of the tiny Gulf state, claiming that the move would open the door to “anti-terror” cooperation between regional states, which Tel Aviv hopes will lead to the normalization of the Zionist occupation of Palestine. According to Al Jazeera, the Arab bloc opposed to Qatar is demanding that it normalize relations with the Israelis and join the regional alliance against Iran.

Doha is accused of paying a sum ranging anywhere from hundreds of millions of dollars to $1 billion ransom to Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah for the release of 28 people, including nine members of the royal family, who were taken hostage in late 2015 while on a falconry expedition in Southern Iraq.

The ransom was allegedly paid to Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani, regional Shia militias, and even radical Syrian opposition group Tahrir al-Sham, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. The BBC published further alleged hacked text messages between involved parties of the deal this month, but Qatar claims such details were fabricated and the money was paid directly to the Iraqi government.

Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Saudi-led bloc has historically opposed. Qatar and allied Turkey threw their weight behind the Brothers throughout the Arab Spring, which started in 2011. The two states backed democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi during his year in power before UAE- and Saudi-backed military ruler General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized power.

The Qataris have long clashed with the Saudis and Emiratis over their respective links to contending Islamist factions across the Middle East, as well as Doha’s pursuit of an independent foreign policy and failure to comply with Riyadh’s domineering approach to regional affairs.

Top Photo | An anti-Qatar protest in London as Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani arrives in the UK, July 23, 2018. Photo | Twitter

Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.

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Alexander Ionov

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