The Weapons of Saudi’s Siege on Qatar

Tilt-shift perspective of Doha, Qatar, May 21, 2010
Tilt-shift perspective of Doha, Qatar, May 21, 2010 (Joey Gannon)

Anyone who’s ever worked in the Gulf isn’t shocked that Qatar missed a deadline. Badiin, badiin, “later, later,” in the local parlance, as yet another meeting fails to happen.

In light of that, we shouldn’t be so surprised that the Qatar’s been given something of an extension. Reuters reports:

Four Arab states refrained on Wednesday from slapping further sanctions on Qatar but voiced disappointment at its “negative” response to their demands and said their boycott of the tiny Gulf nation would continue.

Qatar earlier in the day accused Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt of “clear aggression” and said the accusations cited when they severed ties a month ago “were clearly designed to create anti-Qatar sentiment in the West”.

Western media is conflict-driven and narrative-obsessed: the advent of 24/7 cable news in the 1980s transformed news from the highlights-heavy, factually-driven 5 o’clock stories to the ever-in-crisis outrage industrial complex.

That’s the result of a free market, free speech and cultural shifts that value action over substance.

Very little of that translates to the Arabian Gulf, where markets are only free in designated zones and where free speech applies only to those at the very, very top.

Thus the notion that missing the deadline was a disaster for Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi is hype. Anti-Saudi conspiracy theorists are grasping at what straws they can if they add up to a haystack of Saudi humiliation.

Alas, all of that misreads the situation and the Gulf in general. This is a soft-power war: Saudi Arabia and its UAE allies will not risk a military invasion of a country with a United States base inside it. They don’t have to either. For the kingdom and its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) lackeys to call it a victory, they need only to wait. Read more “The Weapons of Saudi’s Siege on Qatar”

Trump Sells Qatar Warplanes After Accusing It of Funding Terrorists

Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

The American Defense Department has announced it selling $12 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Qatar, the same Persian Gulf country President Donald Trump recently accused of sponsoring terrorists. Read more “Trump Sells Qatar Warplanes After Accusing It of Funding Terrorists”

France Likely to Dial Down Relations with Qatar After Election

Doha Qatar
Tilt-shift perspective of Doha, Qatar, May 21, 2010 (Joey Gannon)

The cozy relationship enjoyed between France and Qatar may come to an end after the election on Sunday. Both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have bashed the Persian Gulf state on the campaign trail.

“I will put an end to the agreements that favor Qatar in France,” Macron, the frontrunner, said last month. “I think there was a lot of complacencies, during Nicolas Sarkozy’s five-year term in particular.”

Sarkozy, a conservative, intensified cooperation with Qatar. His left-wing successor, François Hollande, did not reverse the policy.

Macron, a former economy minister under Hollande, has pledged to demand that Western allies in the Middle East, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, show a “new transparency as to their role in financing or other actions regarding terrorist groups that are our enemies.” Read more “France Likely to Dial Down Relations with Qatar After Election”

Arab Gulf States Will Have to Let in Syrian Refugees

Manama Bahrain
View of downtown Manama, Bahrain (Shutterstock)

As the European migrant crisis is giving way to unprecedented humanitarian efforts from first Germany and now the Vatican, more than a few analysts have noted that for all Europe’s generosity, only a few Arab states have opened their doors to the masses fleeing war in Iraq and Syria.

That’s curious when one considers that the ultra-rich Gulf Cooperation Council states are far closer than Europe and the journey there involves no dangerous seafaring. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all have considerable oil and gas reserves and their citizens are much richer than those of other Arab states. Yet GCC governments have stayed mum even as the #ArabConscience has begun trending regionally. Why? Read more “Arab Gulf States Will Have to Let in Syrian Refugees”

Gulf States Withdraw Diplomats in Rift with Qatar

American secretary of state John Kerry speaks with Foreign Ministers Ahmet Davutoğlu of Turkey, Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah of Qatar and Saud bin Faisal Al Saud of Saudi Arabia in Paris, France, January 12
American secretary of state John Kerry speaks with Foreign Ministers Ahmet Davutoğlu of Turkey, Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah of Qatar and Saud bin Faisal Al Saud of Saudi Arabia in Paris, France, January 12 (State Department)

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday they were withdrawing their ambassadors from nearby Qatar in what was the first public admission of major differences between the Gulf Cooperation Council states.

In a statement, the three monarchies said Qatar had failed to honor an agreement not to interfere in the affairs of its neighbors. But the real reason for the diplomatic pullout seems to be Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that Saudi Arabia and its allies abhor.

Since the beginning of the “Arab Spring” uprisings in late 2010, Qatar has supported Islamist revolutionary causes in Egypt and Syria and provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian affiliate, Hamas. It also hosts the movement’s spiritual leader, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

Saudi Arabia’s own puritanical strain of Islam, Wahhabism, is at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood’s advocacy of political Islam. The organization also favors republicanism and is populist, unlike Saudi Arabia, a monarchy and authoritarian.

Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt suffered a blow last July when President Mohamed Morsi was deposed by the army. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates rushed in with billions of dollars in aid for the interim government that succeeded his.

Around that time, Saudi Arabia also assumed a leadership role in coordinating Arab support for the uprising against Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Whereas Saudi Arabia had concentrated its efforts in the south of the country, near the border with Jordan, and allowed a Qatari sphere of influence in the north, near Turkey, the growing prominence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the opposition worried the kingdom which preferred to back less political Salafist.

Both Arab states have sectarian and strategic imperatives for supporting the Syrian uprising. Because Assad is the only Arab ally of their nemesis Iran, replacing his government with a majority Sunni regime would weaken the Shia axis in the Middle East and limit Iran’s retaliatory options in case there is an American or Israeli attack on its nuclear sites which Arab and Western nations suspect are part of a weapons program.

Despite reluctance on the part of Saudi Arabia’s ally the United States, which worries that religious fanatics in Syria might be no better than Assad, the kingdom has stepped up its support for more radical insurgents

The rift between Qatar and the other oil-producing states in the Persian Gulf further calls into question regional integration schemes which have made little progress in recent years.

The alliance, which also includes Kuwait and Oman, failed to agree to plans for a joint missile defense system, despite American support. A Saudi proposal for deeper economic and political union stalled in 2012. Earlier, the United Arab Emirates had pulled out of a planned monetary union.

Domestic Interests Color Region’s Reaction to Egypt Coup

The Arab Gulf states and Syria’s Bashar Assad may be on opposite sides in a proxy war that pits the region’s majority Sunni Muslims against Shia Iran, yet both welcomed the Egyptian military’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government on Thursday.

Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were all quick to congratulate Egypt’s new president, Adli Mansour, the former chief justice who was installed by the army to lead a transitional government until elections can be held.

Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was elected with a 51.7 percent majority last year, was removed from office after millions of Egyptians had poured into the streets of Alexandria, Cairo and other major cities to demand his resignation. Read more “Domestic Interests Color Region’s Reaction to Egypt Coup”

Saudi Arabia Takes Over Reins in Syrian Uprising from Qatar

Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and his wife arrive at the Qatar National Convention Center in Ar-Rayyān, April 22, 2012 (UNCTAD)

Saudi Arabia has taken up coordination of Arab support for the Syrian uprising at the expense of its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member state Qatar, Reuters reported on Friday.

While governments in neither Gulf kingdom would officially confirm the shift, several senior sources in the region told the news agency that Saudi Arabia prevailed over its small neighbor to decide which of the groups that are battling the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria get their support. The division between a Qatari sphere of influence on the northern border with Turkey and a Saudi sphere on the southern, Jordanian frontier is over.

Prince Salman bin Sultan, a senior Saudi security official, is now running relations with the Syrian rebels, backed by his elder brother, intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to the United States. Read more “Saudi Arabia Takes Over Reins in Syrian Uprising from Qatar”

Neighbors, West Accuse Syria of Chemical Weapons Use

Foreign powers that sympathize with Syria’s rebels accused the regime of President Bashar Assad this week of deploying chemical weapons in the country’s two year civil war.

Israel’s top military intelligence analyst said on Tuesday that forces loyal to Assad had used chemical weapons, probably the nerve gas sarin, against rebel fighters.

Qatar’s prime minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, who also serves as the emirate’s foreign minister, similarly told reporters in Washington a day after speaking with President Barack Obama there, “He used chemicals and there is evidence.” Read more “Neighbors, West Accuse Syria of Chemical Weapons Use”

Qatari Emir Expands Regional Influence With Gaza Visit

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and his wife arrive at the Qatar National Convention Center in Ar-Rayyān, April 22
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and his wife arrive at the Qatar National Convention Center in Ar-Rayyān, April 22 (UNCTAD)

The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, made history on Monday by becoming the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control of the coastal territory in 2007.

For the past five years, Gaza has been a virtual no man’s land in the eyes of much of the world, including some of the very same Arab states that consider the cause of Palestinian freedom a moral one of their own. The Qatari leader has broken that impasse to the delight of senior Hamas officials and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are struggling to make do in any area with no natural resources and decrepit public infrastructure.

Before Sheikh Hamad was scheduled to enter the strip, officials in the Hamas movement made sure that the visit would be a memorable one. Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ prime minister, personally greeted the emir as he crossed into Gaza from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The monarch received a red carpet welcome with an honor guard at his side. Qatari flags were slapped to road signs, electrical cables, telephone polls and along the territory’s major roads to show just how much the sheikh’s trip was appreciated among the Palestinian public.

The official purpose of Sheikh Hamad’s foray into Gaza was to inaugurate $400 million dollars worth of Qatari donations to improve the territory’s dismal economic situation. The money will reportedly be used to build a housing complex that will consist of some 1,000 apartments, improve upon two major highways that are riddled with potholes, break ground on a new medical facility and to refurbish schools that have been damaged.

The visit is also symptomatic of what Qatar, a small but wealthy country with rich natural resource potential, has become: a powerful and influential player in the diplomatic world.

From its sheer size, one would not be quick to consider Qatar a regional powerhouse. Before the country’s natural gas reserves were tapped in the 1990s, it was nothing but a blip on the map, overshadowed by its much larger and more powerful Iranian and Saudi neighbors. Yet as wealth started pouring in, and a television channel called Al Jazeera got off the ground, Doha transformed into a center of the Arab world’s most important financial transactions. Sheikh Hamad, who overthrew his father in 1996 to claim the thrown for himself, has opportunistically used that influence to increase Qatar’s geostrategic significance.

In just over a decade, Qatar has relished its role as a regional mediator, regardless of how hard the dispute is or where the conflict is occurring.

Doha played an integral role in trying to gain the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was captured in 2006 and held by Hamas for years until he was released earlier this year.

In 2008, Qatari diplomats pushed Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh and rebels from the al-Houthi tribe to stop firing on each other. The truce broke down but cemented Qatar’s role as a peace broker. After leading a multiyear effort to secure a peace agreement in Darfur, Darfuri and Sudanese negotiators were finally able to sit down and sign an agreement in Doha that ended at least some of the conflict in the wartorn region.

Add to this Qatar’s integral role in arming and training Libyan rebels during their successful 2011 revolt against Muammar al-Gaddafi as well as its arming of the Free Syrian Army and what was once an insignificant nation in the heart of the Persian Gulf is a rising power in the Middle East, vast approaching the status of a Saudi Arabia or formerly Egypt.

Sheikh Hamad’s state visit to Gaza is the latest iteration of a Qatari foreign policy that consists of a hybrid of generosity, pragmatism and at times aggressive realism. Israel and the United States may not particularly care for the fact that Qatar’s leader is meeting face to face with an internationally-recognized terrorist group but those concerns are unlikely to effect the emir in any substantial way. In his worldview, it’s better to make friends with everyone than limit one’s options.