Six Qatari Incentives to Overcome the Gulf Crisis

On 5 June, the Gulf crisis wraps up its first year—a year that has witnessed major financial losses the involved states incurred on the one hand, and pressing political, economic and social repercussions and a fierce media war on the other.

Despite the various predictions about the Qatari losses caused by the land, sea and air blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, there are two factors to consider. Qatar’s financial solvency, in the first place, and Washington’s reluctant position to support the Gulf siege enabled Doha to pass the first year successfully and overcome the “worst” scenario: a military intervention on its territories.

While the Qatari accomplishment is motivating Doha to consolidate its dismissive position toward the blockaders’ demands, this would deepen its crisis and steer it to the path of no return. Such a choice requires Doha to endure drain of its money supply and to keep a vigilant eye on the internal mood of a tribal religious community that is new to politics and its conflicts. Therefore, it is inescapable for Qatar to admit that resolving the crisis and returning to the Gulf incubator is its best choice.

Blockade/boycott states (KSA, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt) have sent a list of 13 demands to the Kuwaiti mediator, but Doha deemed some of these demands to hobble its sovereign decision. Nevertheless, it emphasised that dialogue through Kuwaiti mediation is very welcomed.

In this article, we review a six-point incentive package that Doha can put on the dialogue table, especially that the settlement conditions stipulated in June 2017 do not provide an acceptable/reasonable room for negotiations.  

The proposed incentive package includes what could be considered a reasonable/an acceptable Qatari response to the blockaders’ demands. Meanwhile, it does not affect Doha’s sovereign decision in any way; therefore, I tend to call them incentives rather than concessions.  What should be emphasised here is that any Qatari step toward resolving the crisis is conditioned by sufficient readiness at the other side, especially Riyadh, to turn that page and overcome the crisis, and give up the policy of creating crises it is unable to resolve.

  • Freezing relations with the Muslim Brotherhood

Over 25 years, Qatar has intensified its capabilities in networking with and gambling on groups of political Islam in all countries in the region in order to play a regional role—a role that was, and continues to be, a source of controversy. Qatar’s investment in the Muslim Brotherhood between 2011 and 2012 has made considerable gains with the breakout of the Arab Spring, whose scene and chronicles were dominated by former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hamad bin Jassim al Thani. In 2013, both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates confronted Doha’s growing influence in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria with either strict (military) responses, as in Egypt and Libya, or other (soft) responses, as in Tunisia.

Since the 2013 Military coup in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood—one the most critical engagement files in the Gulf crisis—places a heavy burden on Qatar, domestically and internationally. The Brotherhood which is encumbered by the defeat of 2013 is, today, a prisoner of a retaliatory mindset on the one hand and internal division and fragmentation on the other. The situation gets more complicated by the success of the project intended to ‘demonize’ the Brotherhood regionally and by encircling it by a political, security and media siege. Added to that also is the Brotherhood’s failure in the Syrian file, and the choice to regress and accept a second-row position in Tunisia.

Whether the incentive of “disengaging from the Muslim Brotherhood and cutting off support for it” is tied to the incentive package offered by Doha or not, it seems that it is not for the interest of Qatar to continue to adopt an organization whose burden, inability and foggy future drains the country politically and economically without any expected geopolitical gains in the horizon.  In any case, Doha seems to have many choices. Its influence inside the Brotherhood would enable it to put pressure on the Brotherhood to accept a proposal of ‘containment’ inside Egypt under certain conditions, which will certainly be not fair. Qatar can also export the entire file to its strategic ally, Turkey.

  • From a Qatari empire to a promising emirate

With the June 2013 military coup in Egypt, the Russian intervention in Syria and the decline of Ennahda party in Tunisia; Qatar early realized the necessity of giving up the role of a hero in losing battles. That has already taken place with Qatar’s withdrawal from Syria in 2013, leaving Riyadh a heavy burden to carry on its shoulder.  The Qatari withdrawal was complemented by abdicating the father, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the throne to his young son, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on 25 June 2013.

Of course, Emir Tamim bin Hamad had to deal with a substantial political legacy inherited from his father, a cold war with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi; open-heart operations in Syria and Libya; and a torn and collapsed ally in Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood). Nevertheless, all that did not prevent the young Prince from establishing an image of a young man who is concerned with the economic, developmental and sports issues; according to a rule of ‘a little politics and much economy.’

As far as the Qatari empire Emir Tamim inherited could be considered the culmination of huge effort made by the most important duo in the history of modern Qatar, the Father Emir Hamad bin Khalifa and former Prime Ministre and Ministre of Foreign Affairs Hamad bin Jassim, it is the time to dismantle this empire, restructure and reorganize it, and rid it from the heavy burden of its institutions and ideologues in a region that has proven to be obstinate to fragile betting and consultations.

Such a choice does not mean to dispense with this empire’s institutions as much as it suggests restructuring and employing them for the best of the country in its new outlook and modern choices, which are undoubtedly distinct from what it used to be in the past twenty years.  

  • The Qatarization of Al-Jazeera

Al Jazeera Satellite Channel has been the striking media arm of Qatar since late 1996. Al Jazeera played a pivotal role in several areas last of which is what is known as the Arab Spring revolutions. More importantly, Al Jazeera can be considered the most important Arab media project since the last century.

The Qatari government had initiated a program to reduce the expenses of the giant channel prior to the Gulf crisis in June 2017. The program included shutting down some channels (Al Jazeera America) and adjusting the services of hundreds of its employees.  Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Manama and Cairo are demanding the closure of Al Jazeera—a demand that is unlikely to be responded to, especially that Al Jazeera has proven to the Qataris that it is a real, invaluable gain. However, some radical changes in the structure of the channel, its interests and editorial line would be accepted and welcomed by the blockading states. Yet, it does require transforming Al Jazeera into a local channel, but rather turning it from being preoccupied with politics to working in politics.

  • Gulf Liaison bureau and counterterrorism bureau

Many Gulf demands are focused on issues pertaining to terrorism. It is a thorny, complicated portfolio and an area of mutual accusation. More importantly, however, is that the siege states’ demands aroused Doha’s serious fears about interfering in its domestic and international sovereign decision. Moreover, there is no agreement on the concepts and perceptions of terrorism; its definition, sources, and lists (of terrorists).

It seems difficult for Doha to get involved in any loose commitment in this regard. It may be more effective to transfer this file to the GCC through a Qatari proposal to amend the ‘Security Agreement of the GCC states’ to establish a Gulf counter-terrorism liaison bureau. The bureau assumes information exchange, supervising charitable and banking institutions, and security cooperation among Gulf capitals.

The Gulf States, including Kuwait and Oman, can organize and deal with the file of terrorism through this bureau, which will represent the legal channel for the exchange of information within the GCC and with the United States, as the blockade states requested. It will also be the legal channel for surveillance operations, including resolving conflicts linked to the issue of terrorism and its complexities.  The presence of both Kuwait and Oman will, of course, represent an authority that prevents exploiting the bureau for any dictates that may undermine Qatar’s sovereignty. The bureau will also eliminate the blockaders’ concerns, since the agreement will require Qatar which signed the security agreement in 2010, to cooperate with all Gulf countries on issues pertaining to terrorism. It is worth mentioning that Qatar has already started, since the beginning of the crisis, to network with Washington regarding terrorism through more than one channel.

  • One Gulf in a troubled region

With the exception of the Yemeni file in which the Gulf states’ accusations of Qatar seem purely vexatious, Qatar is engaged with the blockade/siege states in multiple file, particularly in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Palestine. The formulation of a Qatari proposal to settle these issues, while ensuring an acceptable position for Doha’s allies in Libya and effective political partnership for Hamas in a new Palestinian government, would encourage both Saudi Arabi and the United Arab Emirates to accept a comprehensive settlement.

In Egypt, under the tight grip of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on the internal atmosphere and encircling the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal and leftist groups, Doha’s allies seem to have no access to the political front in Egypt; neither in the near future nor the medium term. The Egyptian-Qatari relations have been suffering from antipathy and aggression although, however, it seems well calculated. This is evident in Cairo’s unwillingness to actively participate in the siege imposed on Doha through the Egyptian labour in Qatar estimated at 70.000 workers, at least. Despite the sensitive relations between Qatar and Egypt, Qatar’s appetite for significant investments in Egypt may open the door to better relations. It is worth mentioning here that these Qatari investments in Egypt, although under a purely political title, they also constitute a successful economic choice in a large market and stimulating investment in various economic sectors.

What is really needed in this context is coordinating the Gulf positions in the region, not to the extent of having identical views, but rather what protects/prevents proxy war choices, as in the Libyan case, for instance.   

  • Settling the Iranian and the Turkish files

The Iranian-Qatari relations and the Turkish military base are among the top priorities of Gulf demands.
In fact, Qatar has tried over a whole year to keep the Gulf dispute within the Sunni house, so to speak. Cooperation between Doha and Tehran is mainly centered on economic interests in order to address the need for goods, as a transit country for Turkish goods, and to facilitate air traffic to Hamad International Airport in Doha. Nevertheless, what Doha can offer in this regard is a commitment to relations similar to those between the UAE and Kuwait with Iran, whether in terms of diplomatic representation or economic cooperation and trade, in accordance with the prevailing diplomatic equation:  reciprocity.

The recent Iranian-Qatari rapprochement after the blockade was not at the expected level. Despite the Gulf demonization of these relations, the Syrian file has not witnessed any changes on the ground that would suggest that Doha was trying to make any geopolitical concessions. This is also the case in Tehran, which benefits from the Gulf crisis more economically than politically.

There is no doubt that Qatar had, in the early days of the crisis, serious fears of military intervention against it. That was acknowledged by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. Doha does not seem to be taking the risk of full acceptance of the blockading states and shut down the Turkish military base. It can, however, promise to reduce the Turkish presence on its lands gradually when it has no more fears of military intervention, on condition that the blockaders have no right in determining a timetable for that.

The six incentives proposed above represent an open invitation to a serious dialogue towards resolving the Gulf crisis or, at least, curbing it. The incentives also mostly ensure a genuine response to the demands put forward by Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Manama, and Cairo, while respecting Doha’s sovereign decision. It is true that proceeding with this dialogue requires making painful concessions, but the refusal and obstinacy of the different parties involved may soon force them all to accept what is worse and more bitter.

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