Less than a week after the nation celebrates its 243 birthday, President Trump has an opportunity to enhance – once again - America’s international status and improve the lives of millions of people during an upcoming meeting with the Emir of Qatar – Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The July 9 meeting presents an opportunity for President Trump to raise significant concerns with the Emir regarding Qatar’s ongoing support of international terrorism, Qatar’s blatant disregard of fair-trade policies designed to protect American airline workers, and Qatar’s sad record of human rights abuses.
Qatar is seen internationally as a major funder of terrorist organizations like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. It was widely reported that human rights organizations have documented violent human rights abuses by the Brotherhood when its supporters were in control in Egypt in 2014, including the murder of nearly 30 Coptic Christians who were peacefully protesting the demolition of a church. The Trump administration has moved to designate the Muslim Brotherhood an international terrorist organization.
Qatar’s support of Hamas is especially disturbing. Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and the European Union. They routinely launch attacks on the State of Israel. The Jerusalem Post reported that a portion of the millions of dollars given to Hamas by the Qatari government, once earmarked for 5,000 needy Palestinian families, will instead go to people with direct ties to Hamas.
President Trump can also discuss Qatar’s disregard of commitments made between our two countries to help ensure fair international airline operations outlined in the Open Skies trade agreements. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates ignored those commitments for several years, subsidizing their airlines, which violated the rules and gave their airlines an unfair advantage. This put our airlines – and the many who they employ – in a dangerous position.
As he has done on many occasions, President Trump took action after the Obama administration sat back and allowed these violations to occur. The Trump administration made clear they would not allow this to continue and reached important agreements with both nations to ensure their compliance.
Unfortunately, Qatar is once again violating those agreements after buying a large ownership stake in Air Italy. Qatar’s investment in Air Italy allows the carrier to launch multiple flights into the U.S. in direct competition with American carriers. This move fits Qatar’s pattern of directing government subsidized flight capacity at the U.S. in an effort to drive off American competition and in violation of its agreement with the United States. U.S. air carriers don’t have the luxury of receiving government funding, and they need to make a profit. The Open Skies agreement was designed to stop countries like Qatar from flooding our markets with government-backed airline service, which ultimately threatens the very existence of the U.S. airline industry.
Qatar’s abandonment of the commitments it made in the agreement with the Trump administration had not gone unnoticed. A group of Senators led by Ted Cruz wrote to the Trump administration expressing concern over these violations. Rep. Matt Gaetz, of Florida has also criticized Qatar’s unfair practices. Secretary Mike Pompeo has said the administration is looking closely at the issue and is concerned about compliance with the agreements.
President Trump should also take time to discuss Qatar’s shameful record of human rights abuses – including the widespread mistreatment of migrant workers and the routine use of squalid labor camps. Amnesty International and other human rights groups condemn Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers who are unfairly paid, forced to live in filthy labor camps and are often subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Estimates suggest that 1.5 million workers, roughly 60 percent of Qatar's population, live in appalling conditions.
International observers also view Qatar's legal system as corrupt and abusive. Qatar’s constitution is based on Sharia Law, which is a very strict interpretation of the teachings of Islam. Flogging and stoning are still widely accepted, legal punishments for alcohol consumption, acts of extramarital sex, blasphemy and homosexuality.
The small, oil rich nation of Qatar can no longer ignore the needs of its people and disregard fair trade policies made with other nations. President Trump has a unique opportunity to reinforce his well-deserved reputation and international credentials by raising these issues with the Emir of Qatar. The Trump administration can rightly press for social reforms that will improve and protect the lives of millions of people and call for new enforcement of trade agreements that will protect tens of thousands of American jobs.
Ken Blackwell was the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and a domestic policy adviser to the Trump/Pence Presidential Transition Team. He is an Adviser to the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.