Here is an English version of my latest for Al-Hurra, you can read it in Arabic here
It has become increasingly clear that Qatar’s diplomatic crisis with its neighbours will not be solved anytime soon. When the dispute began in June 2017, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed a travel and trade ban on Qatar over accusations of supporting terrorism. Western observers predicted that the dispute would be solved “soon.” The naïve prediction did not happen__and the crisis lingers on.
The Saudi-led coalition issued 13 demands to lift the blockade, which included closing down Al-Jazeera, the TV voice of the Arab spring, and dropping support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus far, Qatar has refused to fulfil those demands. Moreover, Qatar has maintained its bond with radicals despite reassuring the American administration of its determination to fight terrorism. On April 11, Qatari PM was guest of honour at an event hosted by one of the world’s most prolific terror financiers, Abd al-Rahman bin Umayr al-Nuaymi, weeks after his government designated Mr Nuaymi a financier of terrorism.
Too much ink has been wasted on articles poorly analysing the conflict, often defending Qatar and portraying its neighbours as unreasonable in their demands. The latest article published in the Financial Times described the Qatari crisis as a “blockade,” and stated that it makes “no sense.”
However, the boycott of Qatar makes absolute sense, except to those who insist on seeing it as tribal Gulf flare-up that will eventually end after token compromises, complimented with hugs and handshakes. In fact, the crisis has reached a critical juncture, with broken bonds, and it is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
There are several political, ideological, and even tribal, dimensions behind the dispute between Qatar and its neighbours. Nonetheless, the core of the crisis is a dispute on strategic vision. Saudi Arabia and its allies aim to preserve Arab nations against a creeping trans-national Islamism threat that comes from Iran, Turkey, and their clients in the Arab world. Aligned with Turkey and Iran, Qatar, considers trans-national Islamism a golden asset and a fast–track to dominance and power, even if the cost is the collapse of states in the region.
Instead of addressing the risks of Islamism and radicalism on fragile Arab states, Qatar opted to engage in a blame game, trivializing the conflict into a personality clash, with comments like “Those Emiratis are behind this crisis.” I have stopped counting the number of comments that I read or heard from Qatar supporters who specifically blame the UAE for the crisis.
Qatar has a history of turbulent relationswith the UAE, but the current boycott of Qatar was triggered by collective grievances from Saudi Arabia and all other countries that joined the anti-Qatar coalition, not just the UAE. Nonetheless, blaming or singling out the UAE as the root of the crisis is a deliberate Qatari policy to achieve three main purposes:
First, to break the unity of its opponents: Qatar aims to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, by portraying the UAE as an unfaithful partner with ulterior motives that can harm Saudi Arabia. Qatar hopes that planting seeds of doubt will break Saudi resolve and drain the Kingdom psychologically, which can ultimately lead to some crucial compromises to Qatar.
Second, to win support from western policy makers: Doha has invested heavily in a diplomatic charm offensive, coupled with a media and lobbying campaign, particularly in the United States. The goal of this PR assault is to blur the reasons behind the dispute with its neighbours, and to steer the argument within the corridors of power in Washington to its favour. The ultimate aim is to eventually entice the US to continue pressing Saudi Arabia and its allies to accept a compromise deal to solve the crisis.
Third, drag the UAE into defensive tactics. Qatar fully understands how some western liberals and leftists have a strong sympathetic affinity to political Islam coupled with a deep despise of Arab monarchs. With that in mind, Qatar has managed to exploit this combination, and has started to portray itself, disingenuously, as a patron of democracy and pluralism in the region, unlike its rival the UAE. With such devious tactics, Qatar’s aim is to push the UAE to defend its own regional policies rather than focusing on Qatari reckless policies against its neighbours.
Arguably, Qatar has had partial success. Undoubtedly many western outlets that have written in support of Qatar, adopting its narratives that portray the boycott as a “blockade.” This may have also succeeded in clinching some neutrality from the Trump administration towards the conflict.
With that said, however, Qatar has failed to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the UAE and failed to weaken the resolve of the coalition resolve. The coalition continues to insist on fulfilling the initial 13 demands placed upon Qatar. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE may have their own differences in policy and vision, but they both understand that any compromise to Qatar will not only empower their devious tiny neighbor, but also open the flood gates for both the Mullahs and the Ottomans to drown their thrones and dominate the entire region. This simple fact is surprisingly missing from the debate in Washington.