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The Qatar Crisis - Middle East

The Qatar Crisis

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

July last year, US released its 9/11 Congressional Report implicating US intelligence’ belief that Saudi officials may have had multiple contacts with some of the 9/11 hijackers. In response Saudi Foreign Minister al-Juberi threatened Washington that his country would be forced to sell $750 billion in US Treasury Securities if the US passes a bill on this report.

This was months after the P5+1 and Iran had struck the Nuclear Deal in Oct. 2015 – a deal that had come after ISIS’ retreats in Syria, beginning in January and in Iraq, beginning in March, not to mention the Russian military intervention in Syria in September.

At the heart of the Qatar Crisis lies the story of betrayals and heartbreaks between the US and the Arabs.

At the onset of the Syrian Arab Spring, the Gulf States, particularly Kuwait and Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey had colluded with the US in a bid for the removal of Assad, which would, in their reckoning, decisively weaken the growing Shia influence in the region. Militarily the Arabs depended totally on the US and its Allies, while they aided ISIS, al Nusra, the Free Syrian Army and other affiliates with funds, training space and as conduits for weapons. So ISIS’ retreat, was actually a military defeat of US in Syria and a political defeat for the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey against Assad.

The leaked DoD Report proves this understanding between the West and the Arabs at that time - it says that ‘the Salafist, Muslim Brotherhood and AQI are major forces driving the insurgency in Syria’ and that ‘the West the Gulf States and Turkey support the opposition forces…’ – meaning that at that time the Muslim Brotherhood was not an issue between the Saudis and Qatar, all that mattered at that time was to defeat Assad and Iran.

The once Brotherhood member, now settled in Qatar, Qaradawi, however had been a thorn in the eye for long for his condemning of the Saudis’ Wahhabi extremism, which he accounted as the reason behind the rise of terrorism in the world.

The Muslim Brotherhood based in Egypt is age old rival of Wahhabism, as-in it presents itself as a more moderate forum proclaiming that ‘Islam is a comprehensive, self-evolving system…’. Compared to government-backed Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, the Brotherhood had always been an opposition force in Egypt suffering many crackdowns from ruling regimes, surviving and expanding all the time. In fact, like the Saudis consider Shia Islam a threat for Sunni Islam, the Brotherhood, with millions of members and 500 branches around the Muslim World, has been an ideological opposite for Wahhabism. The pivot of this opposite-ideology can be said to be in the Palestinian Issue, which has always been taken forcefully and actively by the Brotherhood, while the Saudis have been passive in this matter. In backing Hamas, Jihad for the Brotherhood has always been directed against Israel, whereas the Saudi’s version of Jihad that has forth came with al Qaeda, has sadly been directed more so against Muslim regimes. All this eventuates in the Saudis garnering a wrong image for perhaps the right reasons in their own reckoning.

Meanwhile, Qatar being a station for the Brotherhood and Hamas leaders, should not be necessarily considered as its ideological affiliation with the Brotherhood, rather Qatar has a tendency for a liberal foreign policy. Historically, while Arabia never became a colony of the British and was vouchsafed in the hands of the Saud Family at the demise of the Ottomans, the Gulf States remained to be occupied by the British, late until the 1970s. The British used them as forward bases for their interest in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf and ensured their dissociation with Saudi Arabia by empowering local chiefs of the lands. Independence and the wealth of oil came to the Gulf States in parallel. In 1996, US built Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar to make it the hub of the US Central Command (CENTCOM). So whatever the US did in MENA - abetting terrorism, feeding the Arab Spring, toppling governments - Qatar, the Gulf States and Saudis were all in this puddle together.

But Qatar’s duplicity in acts does raise some concerns! In the case of Libya, where the LIFG had been positioned by Britain’s Tony Blair to topple Gaddafi - the major conduit for funds and weapons was Ali al Sallabi, a Qatar-based, Libyan dissident. But once Gaddafi was ousted and Libya fell into complete chaos, Qatar, instead of backing the US-backed GNC government or the Saudi/Egypt backed Haftar government, is backing the Islamist who are a mix of Brotherhood and Salafists (a variant of Wahhabism).

In Yemen, when the war began in March 2015, Qatar was very much with the Saudis in bombing Yemen and blockading its seaports. Riyadh had funded the creation of the Islah Party in South Yemen in 1990. With its Wahhabi/Salafi background Islah paved the ground for Al Qaeda’s emergence in Yemen. All the main leaders of AQAP were either Guantanamo returnees or had escaped from jails in Saudi Arabia and Yemen after being repatriated, exactly the same game plan as had been played in Libya. In 2012, Abd al Wahhab Humayqani, having close ties with Qatar, made another Salafi Party by the name Al-Rashad, the Saudis backed this party in the hope to counter the Brotherhood in Yemen by it, but it seems that later Humayqani showed inclined to peaceful alternatives to violence and wanted to unite Yemeni factions in a stable democracy. In 2013, the US Department of the Treasury listed Humayqani as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, supporting Al Qaeda – Humayqani is also in the Saudi’s terror-list. Now while everybody has their hands in the same dirt, something happened between US, the Saudis and Qatar that in the midst of the Yemen War, Qatar changed sides to Al Rashad and then to the Houthis. The question is, what had happened to bring such change?

It seems that Obama’s double-play between the Sunnis and the Shias undermined the vintage unity between the Arab peninsular states. Billions of dollars, millions of lives and livelihood that had went into the Iraq and Syria project, started to look like a waste when the US back-footed in Syria. This was the breaking point for those who had depended so blindly upon the wisdom of the US. After a decade of devastation in their own neighborhood and bad-name for involvement in terrorism, the Saudis and the Gulf States were left with a Middle East shifted more under Shia influence. Baghdad had been utterly lost to the Iranians and so too Syria. Moreover, the Nuclear Deal with Iran, was not only a matter of lifting of sanctions for the Iranians, rather it was actually US’ last effort to convince Iran to back out from Syria, which they refused to do, causing retreat of both ISIS and US military action.

This disappointment with US action created fissures between the Arabs that broke them into two choices – either try to bring US back into the Syrian stage or look for alternatives. For the Saudis this alternative was perhaps in making the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT), which would have the legitimacy to intervene in all Muslim states exactly on the premise that the US did, ‘terrorism’. But for Qatar options were more diversified. They could think of a complete reversal of sides, making friends with the enemies, for after all, the prime lesson from US diplomacy has been to readily keep changing sides for political/economic gains.

This change of side would again be pivoted on the Palestinian Issue, an issue that everyone wants to own but no one wants to do anything about. Pivoting to the Palestine Issue gives legitimacy to political action, and Qatar had the prerequisite to make this pivot, as it has been the latest champion of active resistance in Gaza. Hamas was formed in the First Intifada (1987) under Brotherhood patronage, the Saudis, Gulf States, US, Britain were among its donors – they thought of Hamas as an alternative that would weaken PLO’s strength under Yasser Arafat. But as the PLO became complacent with Arafat’s demise, Hamas in itself became formidable. US and Saudis started discrediting Hamas and by 2004 funds became scarce - Turkey, Iran and Qatar became the new donors and the leadership located itself in Syria, wherefrom it would move to Qatar with the start of the Syrian Civil War.

Though the list of terrorist individuals and organizations that Saudis have demanded to be ousted by Qatar does not include Hamas members, but it does include all Hamas friends like the Brotherhood and Hezbollah. Moreover the electricity crisis in Gaza generated by the PLO and worsened by Egypt and Israel, has served to corner Hamas more.

In fact 24 of the 59 people in the list are Egyptian, Brotherhood members and the Saudis claim that they are ‘financed by Qatar and serve their agenda to spread the seeds of sedition, incitement and sabotage in Egypt’. Meaning that the Brotherhood activities in Egypt at this time are presenting a threat to the Saudi-allied Sisi government.

The complexity of the Qatar Crisis can therefore be generalized by saying that if the Qataris are allowed to have things go their way, there are chances that the Muslim Brotherhood might be strengthened in the Sunni Arab world, along with its power to replace extremist Wahhabism, with its relative moderation. This would isolate Saudi Arabia from best buddy Egypt. And from Yemen, which is the poorest yet has been the most democratic state in the Peninsula, and that a party like Rashad might pursue the democratic values of Yemen, taking it away from Saudi and US hegemony over its internal affairs and its foreign policy. In Palestine, Hamas might be strengthened, severing Israel’s plan to gulp in the whole of Palestine. Iraq might become the second Shia state of the world and Syria would return to Assad status quo.

On the other hand, if the Saudis get to go their way, the world wouldn’t be a better place either, because of the fact that the Saudis have proven to be bad handlers of situations. Their embrace and total dependence upon the US and their easy resort to a violent ideology and their apathy towards the sufferings of their fellow Muslims and their clemency with Israel – are all things that take them away from the hearts of the Ummah. The measures taken by the Saudis to counter Iran’s expansionism can certainly be accredited to their weak judgment, as those have only strengthened Iran more. How did the Saudi’s conceive of such a world order that would come out blissful after inducing complete chaos and devastation – this was certainly an extension of United States’ thinkings such as ‘containment’ and ‘rollback’ whereby they have been inducing terror and rebellion in several states to counter Russia in the Cold War. Did the US and its allies sell this inhuman ideology of ‘creative destruction’ to the Saudis, promising them to wield the Middle East for them by dipping it into war and blood? Were there not and are there not better, more moderate options?

The pompous show-off at the Riyadh Summit was Saudi’s desperate attempt to call back the Trump administration for an active part in the Middle East again. And this time they openly targeted Iran as their despised one. Will the US risk a global confrontation with an expanding coalition that now includes Russia, Iran, Turkey and China, just to complete the Saudi’s wish-list? And if they do, can the Saudi’s ensure peace or stability in MENA anytime in near future?

Rather Qatar has instantly boomeranged on the Saudis as a result of this Summit, making a question mark upon whether the Saudi’s have strengthened or weakened themselves with this Summit. For the Qataris, Iran is the winning party in Iraq and Syria, so the future must lie with them. The gas pipeline that could never be made from the Gulf to the Mediterranean because of enmities with Iraq and Syria, can now be made with friendship with Iran. But Qatar cannot override the reality of the Shia threat upon the Sunni world either – does it have the magic spell that could create at atmosphere of peaceful Shia-Sunni co-existence and curb Iran’s expansionist dreams or is Qatar, in its immaturity, playing with fire too?