What's at stake in the crisis over Qatar?

A brewing conflict among the rulers of the Persian Gulf region reached a crisis stage in early June when Saudi Arabia led other countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in cutting ties with Qatar. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have halted all land, air and sea traffic with Qatar, ended diplomatic ties and ordered to Qatari citizens to leave. With 40 percent of Qatar's food supply coming over the border from Saudi Arabia, there are fears of shortages of food and water.

Qatar is a small but very wealthy nation on a peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf. It shares a single land border with Saudi Arabia to the south and west, and lies across the Gulf from Iran to the east and the small island nation of Bahrain to the north and west.

Qatar stands accused of supporting Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies hold responsible for fomenting terrorism and instability. In reality, the Saudi autocracy has led the way in crushing pro-democracy movements and pursuing a sectarian conflict with its chief regional rival, Iran, that is at the root of war and suffering in the Middle East. Qatar has supported some movements that Saudi Arabia opposes and leans toward Iran in aspects of the regional conflict, though Qatar also has close ties to the U.S., as the site of some of the Pentagon's most important overseas bases.

Gilbert Achcar is a socialist who grew up in Lebanon and author of numerous books, including Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising. He wrote this analysis untangling the sources of the conflict for the Qatari-owned newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi. It appeared in English at The Arabist website. The translation is credited to Industry Arabic.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (left) with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley | flickr)

TO UNDERSTAND the significance of the violent campaign launched by the Saudi, United Arab Emirates, Bahraini and Egyptian governments against Qatar, we must look beyond the vagaries of the Qatari ransom money allegedly held by Iraq and the charges leveled against Qatar of supporting terrorism. Such charges lose all credibility when they come from actors that have, for decades, engaged in just that. We must return to the scene before the Arab Spring to see how it was affected by the Great Uprising.

During the reign of Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emirate of Qatar took an approach to regional affairs not unlike Kuwait's after it declared independence from Britain in 1961. The announcement outraged the Republic of Iraq, which demanded the Emirate be restored as part of its territory. But Kuwait benefited from the tension that existed between Iraq, under the leadership of Abd el-Karim Qasim, and Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt, which advocated acceptance of Kuwait's Arab independence over its status as a British protectorate. In order to deter its Iraqi neighbor from ambitions of annexation, Kuwait pursued a policy of Arab neutrality, maintaining good relations with the two poles of the so-called "Arab Cold War": Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The similarity is that Qatar, as is well known, has a historically strained relationship with its neighbor Saudi Arabia, particularly since declaring independence from Britain in 1971. After seizing power in 1995, Emir Hamad pursued a policy that sought to make up for the emirate's small size by reinforcing ties with the two main axes of regional conflict, as evident by extensive deployments of U.S. troops throughout the Gulf: the United States and the Republic of Iran. Qatar's success is most obvious in its ability to simultaneously host the United States' most important regional air base and cultivate its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah. The policy of good relations with opposing forces also manifests itself in Qatar successfully establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, while also supporting Hamas.

Qatar's role during the reign of Emir Hamad was not limited to cultivating good relationships with different parties in the Kuwaiti sense, which is neutral and negative, but it also used its substantial wealth to play an active role in regional politics by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. When Saudi Arabia renounced the Brotherhood, after sponsoring it since its inception in 1928, due to its opposition to American intervention in Kuwait in 1990, the weight of Qatar's political role greatly increased with the establishment of Al Jazeera, which resonated with Arab society by welcoming Arab voices of opposition, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood.

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SO WHEN the volcano of the Great Arab Uprising erupted in 2011, Qatar was able to play a significant role through its sponsorship of both the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Jazeera. As a result, the two axes of conflict that had dominated the Arab world--the old establishment and the fundamentalist opposition led by the Muslim Brotherhood--found support in the Gulf Cooperation Council. But while Saudi Arabia supported the old establishment throughout the region--with the exception of Libya where it remained neutral and Syria where sectarianism produced an alliance between the Assad regime and Iran--Qatar supported the uprisings, especially where the Brotherhood was involved, with the exception of Bahrain for obvious reasons. The conflict between the Emirate and the Kingdom since the onset of the Arab Spring was evident by Qatar's support for the Tunisian uprising, while Saudi Arabia granted asylum to deposed Tunisian President Zine El ...
4 Published By - socialistworker - 2017.06.19. 07:00
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