Qatar and Saudi Arabia: pause in regional tenseness
Trump’s past era was also linked with a diplomatic war in the Near East between Qatar and other Gulf countries. Oman and Kuwait stayed neutral in this conflict. However, earlier this year, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, which includes all Gulf countries besides Iran and Iraq, signed a document on unity that crossed out more than three years of the emirate’s blockade. In his next column for our newspaper, Realnoe Vremya’s columnist Karim Gaynullin reflects on why Qatar turned out to be a winner in this situation.
“The Gulf countries think that Qatar doesn’t follow the agreement’s provisions”
Qatar occupies a tiny cape on the Arabian Peninsula and has the only land border with Saudi Arabia. The former British protectorate gained independence only in 1971 and has unchangeably been ruled by the House of Al Thani. This small monarchy is a country with the biggest per capita income and is extremely rich thanks to huge oil and natural gas reserves.
Qatar is at odds with other Arab countries over the role of political Islam in the region. The latter are inclined to fight any Islamist groups including moderate ones and those that have a democratic outlook. While Qatar was a kind of hub to unite different Islamic forces. For instance, the informal leader of the Muslim Brotherhood (banned in Russia) Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Qatar thinks that the political future of the whole Arab world will be reflected in the abolition of one-party leftist movements and establishment of a kind of version of Islamic republicanism. In this regard, the views of the House of Thani contradict the outlook of the UAE and Saudi Arabia that are inclined to soft reforms without the abolition of regimes.
For small Qatar, the support of such forces becomes a factor that makes other countries respect its opinion in regional politics. On the other hand, it is a good way to recruit qualified migrants with corresponding ideological preferences. At the same time, the Qatari channel Al Jazeera expresses quite a liberal agenda that’s far from religious fundamentalism.
However, as early as 2013, Qatar signed the Riyadh Agreement where it promised to stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. The Gulf countries think that Qatar doesn’t follow the agreement’s provisions.
Demands for Qatar
Qatar’s cooperation with Turkey became another point of the conflict. It was manifested in the agreement on military cooperation signed by both countries in 2015. During the same year, Turkey’s military base was created on the territory of the emirate. Both countries agree with each other on the endorsement of opposition forces in Libya, which contradicts the stance of the UAE and Saudi Arabi that bet on Haftar’s government.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Yemen, one of the governments of Libya and Bahrain issued 13 demands for Qatar that included:
- shut down Al Jazeera,
- break relations with terrorist organisations,
- curb ties with Iran,
- close all mass media funded by Qatar,
- stop military relations with Turkey,
- sever ties with people and groups recognised as terrorist,
- hand over all people recognised as terrorist,
- end interference in sovereign countries’ affairs,
- cut relations with the opposition of the above-mentioned Gulf countries,
- pay compensation for the damage done by Qatar’s foreign policy,
- align itself to the block of Gulf countries in all aspects,
- agree to all the demands within 10 days,
- consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing and then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
Considering that none of these demands has been either met or recognised yet, the occurrence can be supposed as Qatar’s win. While the threats were very serious. So Saudi Arabia threatened to separate Qatar from the continent by making it an island. The Arab countries required FIFA not to hold the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. However, the conflict has so far been limited to a rupture of diplomatic ties and economic sanctions that stretched into 3,5 years.
What fate awaits arrested theologians?
The arrest of Islamic theologians who were against the escalation of the conflict between Muslim countries was another manifestation of the conflict. For instance, Saudi theologians Salman al-Ouda, Awad Al-Qarni and Ali al-Umari are among them. It is still unknown if they will be freed due to the end of the conflict.
The fact that almost all foodstuffs were delivered to this country via a land border with Saudi Arabia became a problem for Qatar. The logistic problem had to be solved through the intervention of Iran and Turkey. Moreover, the interests of the big airline Qatar Airlines, air flights through the territory of neighbouring countries were affected. Flights between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were banned until 10 January.
The conflict only brought Turkey and Qatar together. So the military presence of Turkish forces in the country expanded in summer 2019 already. The approach took place with Iran too. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs already claimed on 5 January: “Congratulations to Qatar for the success of its brave resistance to pressure & extortion”.
Since the sides didn’t come to a compromise, while the conflict, as experts claim, was frozen due to diplomatic efforts of Trump’s government, we can expect that the conflict will break out in the future in a different way. What happened can be named a complete political success of Qatar that didn’t agree with any point of the accusations. But this doesn’t mean that the isolated political success will be followed by approval of Qatar’s outlook on the future of the Near East by the rest of the monarchies.
The author’s opinion does not necessarily reflect the view of the editorial.