Qatar emir's visit causes split in Putrajaya

Jahabar Sadiq

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al-Thani has accepted an invitation to visit Malaysia and is due to arrive next month. – EPA pic, August 15, 2017.

A SPAT has erupted in the Najib administration over the Qatari emir’s official visit to Malaysia, reflecting the rift between the Gulf state and its Saudi Arabia-led neighbours.

The Malaysian Insight understands Foreign Minister Anifah Aman is firm that Putrajaya, as a neutral party in the Gulf diplomatic crisis, will host Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al-Thani when he visits next month

But Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who is also the Special Functions Minister and seen to be close to the Saudi government, wants the trip delayed until peace is brokered between the Middle East nations.

“There is a spat and Anifah is unhappy, to put it diplomatically, that his ministry’s decisions and jurisdiction is being questioned. The emir has been invited and it cannot be delayed,” a source told The Malaysian Insight.

“We are an impartial country in the rift, so why should we hold off visits until the countries settle their issues?” he added, noting that Anifah has had more experience in Middle East affairs since he took office in Wisma Putra in 2009.

At the heart of the matter is possibly more investments from Qatar, a rich Gulf state suffering a fallout since early June when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut ties with it over its  alleged support for extremists.

Anifah, a senior Umno leader whose brother is Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman, is said to have close ties with most if not all Middle East leaders. “He does his job to make Malaysia friends with all countries,” another source said.

Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt broke off relations with Qatar on June 5, instituting a series of economic reprisals, including closing their land and sea borders and airspace. Qatar has built an emergency shelter for camels and sheep after Saudi Arabia demanded that these animals belonging to Qataris keep to their side of the border. – EPA pic, August 15, 2017.

Hishammuddin was made Special Functions Minister earlier this year but his role has been largely undefined although he is seen to be close to the Saudis, and had featured prominently in King Salman’s visit to Malaysia last February when several Saudi investments were announced.

Another source said Prime Minister Najib Razak has asked his deputy, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, to intercede and smoothen the ruffled feathers and strained ties between Anifah and Hishammuddin.

Zahid had invited the emir to visit Malaysia when Zahid made a four-day official visit to Qatari capital Doha in February .

Qatar has provided valuable foreign exchange for Malaysia with several Malaysian companies involved in infrastructural projects ahead of the Gulf state hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

These Malaysian companies include WCT Engineering Bhd, which is handling a slew of construction projects costing 1.2 billion riyal (RM1.4 billion) for Lusail, a new city here.

Malaysia Airports Holding Bhd unit Malaysia Airports Consultancy Services Middle East LLC has obtained a contract extension to provide management service facilities for the Hamad International Airport and its annexes.

The energy-rich Qatar is the home of Al-Jazeera, a satellite news station that has been banned in a few Gulf states and most recently, in Israel. Malaysia is one of three bases for the English-service Al-Jazeera International since 2006. – August 15, 2017.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.