No end in sight: The Qatar–GCC feud
I have been asked several times “when do you think the Qatar-GCC feud will end?” To which I can only answer “how long is a piece of string?”
Qatar has a long history of being the contrarian within the GCC. Some experts trace it back to border disputes that began in the early seventies and bubbled along until the late nineties.
Others argue that the turning point began in 1995 with a bloodless coup that saw the current emir’s father overthrow his father. The ungrateful son and new Emir Hamad launched a huge economic expansionist programme funded on wealth generated by natural gas. The Saudis who had long held ascendancy thanks to oil wealth, now found a new, bold and brash kid on the hydrocarbons block. And they didn’t much like it.
The emergence of Al Jazeera as a powerful Middle East and then global voice gave the Qataris a vehicle with which to regularly annoy the Saudis and the Emiratis culminating in Al Jazeera Arabic’s wholehearted (and unbalanced) support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere.
The alignment of Qatar behind the brotherhood and other Islamist movements during and after the Arab Spring, underscored by their hearty endorsement of Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brothers’ successful candidate in Egypt’s first full and fair presidential election, upped the ante yet again.
As did their ambitious foreign relations efforts. Doha was home to Hamas and the Taliban, a comfortable home for Islamists of varying hues, all present and accounted for as part of a massive initiative to show Qatar as a port of reconciliation.
In 2014 Saudi Arabia engineered a diplomatic rupture that put the young and untried Qatari emir Tamim into an uncomfortable position. Tamim had taken over following his father Hamad’s abdication in 2013.
The emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al Sabah, played the heroic role of peacemaker and relations were restored after a six month break. We will probably never know what the precise terms of the deal were but suffice it to say that Tamim agreed to rein in Al Jazeera, mute his support for the brotherhood and Hamas and toe the GCC line on Iran.
Three years on, and increasingly angry with what they deemed to be the failure of Tamim to deliver on his promises, Saudi Arabia and the UAE unloaded on Qatar in an unprecedented blaze of diplomatic, economic and political fusillades that have left the 37 year old emir and the country he rules dazed and reeling.
The recall of ambassadors, air, sea and land blockades, the expulsion of Qatari diplomats in 48 hours and all other Qatari citizens within two weeks were just the opening shots. And unlike the quiet diplomacy of 2014, this new rupture has been a very public debacle.
Rather than seek dialogue and an end to the feud the Saudis have ratcheted up the pressure. The influential Saudi columnist Abdulrahamen al Rashed writing an op ed in the English language Arab news demanded from Tamim an unconditional surrender or banishment from the GCC.
In the tightly controlled world of Saudi media that sort of message could not have been published without the express agreement of the ruling Al Saud.
Circling in the air, like a falcon poised to plummet on its victim, was the suggestion of a coup that would eliminate Tamim and replace him with a more malleable member of the Qatari ruling family.
And to take the temperature up a just that much higher, little Bahrain – who dance to the tune of its Saudi paymasters – is calling for $26 billion in reparations, claiming that Qatar is behind the unrest that has rocked the island kingdom since 2011. But all along the Bahraini official line has been that it is Iran who is behind the seething anger within the abused Shia majority community. As they say on the street ‘go figure.’
Of course this is all of a madness but then madness is running high not just in the Gulf but around the world.
Where will it end? I honestly have no idea beyond the thought that it will all end badly for everyone concerned, everyone that is save Iran.
* Bill Law is a Middle Eastanalyst and a specialist in Gulf affairs. He tweets @billlaw49.