Qatar Diplomatic Crisis: Some Background Analyses

Abdullah al-Ahsan

The decision by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt on June 5 to sever diplomatic and commercial relations with Qatar has created an unprecedented political uproar in the region. Similar crises had emerged before too, but this time the assault seems much severe. It is more severe this time not only because some other small players such as Maldives, Mauritania and Yemen have joined the group, the unpredictable President Trump has come forward with his support for the action. With the closure of Qatar’s air, sea and land links disrupting its exports and imports particularly affecting food supplies the situation has turned grave. A gleeful Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s defense minister is also reported to have praised the measures against Qatar because he finds “many possibilities of cooperation in the struggle against terror” in the action. Is Qatar so dangerous for the rest of the world? What has the tiny Qatar done to cause so much of “security threat” to neighboring countries and beyond?

 What is Qatar’s Fault?

Qatar has been accused of supporting terror groups and the Palestinian Hamas has been identified as one of those groups. But what kind of assistance has Qatar really provided to Hamas? Has Qatar provided Hamas with arms to fight Israel? The fact is that Israel and Egypt have jointly blocked Gaza, causing huge humanitarian affliction for the people in the Strip. Yes, Qatar has sent humanitarian assistance to Gaza and perhaps granted visa for some Hamas leaders to temporarily reside in the country. But is it Qatar’s fault that the people of Gaza have elected Hamas to represent them? Should Qatar then have ignored sufferings of the people of Gaza? In this context one should be remember that King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, founder of modern Saudi Arabia, was a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause. He strongly protested against President Truman’s decision to recognize Israel in 1948 and rejected an American grant for Saudi Arabia. He strongly believed that the US had violated the rights of Palestinians by supporting the creation of the state of Israel in Palestine. The King’s position on the issue was no different that the position that Hamas holds today on the question of Palestine.

Qatar has also been accused of supporting the Egyptian Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). What sort of assistance has Qatar provided to MB other than humanitarian? More than half a century ago when Egyptian MB encountered persecution at home, many of its members sought shelter in Saudi Arabia. Wise leaders in Saudi Arabia did provide them with shelter but as a result Saudi Arabia benefitted a lot too. At a time when Saudi Arabia had very few educated and trained manpower, highly professional and qualified MB members made significant contribution to what is Saudi Arabia today. Why have the MB members lost Saudi goodwill? Answer to this question may be connected to the current crisis.

What is the Real Reason behind the Crisis

According to an analyst, “The real reason behind the diplomatic fallout may be far simpler, and once again has to do with a long-running and controversial topic, namely Qatar’s regional natural gas dominance.” But this may be too simplistic. David Hearst of the Middle East Eye in an article “Three potential motives behind the tension between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours,” identifies “to finish the job started in June 2013 when Morsi was toppled” as one of the motives and to us this makes sense. Morsi was a MB member who is the only civilian in Egypt’s history who was elected by the people. If a terrorist is defined as “a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims” as has been defined by the English dictionary, then who is a terrorist? Morsi, the only civilian who was elected president of the country in a credible election; or Sisi, who usurped power from Morsi by force? Fundamentally the ancien regimes in the region didn’t seem to have been happy about 2011 uprisings and seem to hold Qatar responsible for educating people to stand for their rights.  Therefore Qatar’s fault was to establish Aljazeera news networks, bringing BBC’s Doha debate to the country, establish think-tanks, and a number of American universities to Qatar to educate not only Qataris but also everybody in the region. Why are the accusers against Qatar so afraid of education? Do they consider the people in the region foolish? Don’t the people understand what is good and what is harmful for them?

Harassment of Pilgrims in the Holy Mosque

Saudi authorities are reported to be preventing Qatari nationals from entering the Grand Mosque. If this true, the Saudi authorities are not only violating the teachings of Shari’ah, they are also breaking the commitment that King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud made to representatives of Muslims from all over the world. After capturing Hijaz, where the holy mosques are located, in 1924 from the Hashmites the King declared the territory as the trust of Islam and in 1926 in a conference he received mandate from Muslim leaders to administer facilities for pilgrims. At a time when most Muslim nation states had not yet emerged, these Muslim leaders were the real representative of the Muslim world.

It should be noted that this could not have been achieved without the support of the British colonial administration which originally favored the Hashimite Sharif Hussain. However, Muslims all over the world were very critical of the Hashimites because of latter’s support for the British against the Ottomans and the British were trying to pacify particularly their Indian subjects. The Khilafat Movement was very strong at that time. Ibn Saud’s diplomacy succeeded: he was able to secure not only the British patronage; he also secured long term financial support for his Kingdom in exchange of providing services to pilgrims.

Timing of the Action against Qatar

The timing of the action by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE is important. Why have they taken this rather extreme step now? These countries were already concerned because of the Arab uprisings of 2011 but became furious since the Egyptian MB received peoples mandate in 2012. While holding Qatari news media for such developments, they perhaps thought that Trump presidency would facilitate them achieving their mischievous objective to eliminate the popular movement. However, they don’t seem to know the fact that the United States has a constitution which ensures checks and balances. No matter how unpredictable a president could be, the President can’t impose his whimsical determination on the nation. More than a week has passed and there is no sign that the embargo against Qatar is receiving US support. In fact Trump’s tweets and statements have been challenged by a number of government institutions including the State Department and the Pentagon.

Role of the Muslim World

In this context it is painful to see the statement by the General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) asking Qatar “to honor its previous commitments and agreements signed within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), particularly with regard to ceasing support for terrorist groups and their activities and ending media incitement.” Does the OIC want Qatar to abandon its commitment to humanitarian causes? Particularly in this month of Ramadan? Such an act will not only violate the teachings of Shari’ah, but also OIC’s Cairo declaration of Human Rights and the UN declaration of Human Rights. It should be remembered that when the OIC was established, its general secretariat was supposed to be located in Jerusalem. But since Jerusalem was under Israeli occupation, the Saudi King Faisal persuaded OIC member states to temporarily host the OIC headquarter in Jeddah. Now Saudi Arabia seems to have made the OIC its home property. Recently it has fired its Secretary General reportedly on the recommendation of Egypt without even consulting other members of the organization. In this context one must note that Al-Azhar’s fatwah on the role of Qatar is shameful.

As for other Muslim countries, on top of the vassal governments in Yemen and Libya tiny Maldives and Mauritania have declared their support for the Saudi/ UAE gang. But heavy weights such as Turkey and Iran have come forward with their strong support for Qatar. Turkey has even come forward with military assistance for Qatar. This is a very timely gesture on the part of Turkey. It is unfortunate that Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan are almost silent on the crisis. Does one need to take side in such conflicts? Haven’t Kuwait and Oman, GCC member countries, declared their position? Can’t one declare position on the basis of principles? Has it been ethically and Islamically correct to declare such an war-like embargo against the brotherly country Qatar during the month of Ramadan? The Saudi led action against Qatar is wrong because the blockade seems to have been mainly against food supplies to Qatar. It is almost unimaginable for a common Muslim to force any individual to starve to death in such a mischievous manner.

The Israeli Connection

The leaked email correspondence of UAE’s ambassador in Washington has demonstrated “that there is a growing axis between some of the Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Israel.” Therefore Avigdor Lieberman’s gleeful desire for cooperation in the excuse of security should not surprise observers of ongoing developments in the region. Many other Israeli leaders also have also been cheerful and hopeful about the possible outcome of Qatar crisis. According to the Jerusalem Post “Israel benefits when it is not the center of attention and certainly when it is not under pressure. This is a boon for the government.” Zionism’s greater Israel project has already succeeded in splitting Iraq and Syria into many sectarian pieces, the Gulf crisis will perhaps extend that sectarianism and tribalism to the extended region. This is not suggest that Israel alone is responsible for the civil war in Iraq and Syria but Israel knows very well how take advantage of the youth that has lost hope and suffers from severe economic difficulties. And Qatar’s failure as a moderate force in the region is bound to create despair, hopelessness and frustration among the youth, not only in the region but throughout the world. This will create opportunities for conspirators to recruit potential extremists to carry out seditious activities.

Will Qatar Succumb to Pressure?

David Hearst in the article quoted above has predicted that, “out of the havoc they are wreaking, a new, autonomous and modern Arabia will, eventually, emerge.” We would like to add that this new modern Arabia will be based on principles of caring for one another, human dignity and self-respect; not on the basis of superiority of race, tribe or lineage. Qatar has survived similar attacks in 2014 and came out strong. This time too it is expected to demonstrate its resilience. Enemies of Qatar perhaps had designed to create food shortage in Ramadan thinking that the country would succumb to pressure immediately. However, they must have miscalculated the level of spiritual strength that Ramadan brings to believers. One must not underestimate the strength of spirituality of Qataris.

It is interesting to note that the social media in these countries seem to have reacted sharply against the measures against Qatar. That is why they have now banned people even from publishing expressions of sympathy towards Qatar in the social media. This is a sign of desperation and usually defeated parties adopt such subscribe to such acts. There is a strong possibility that Qatar will come out much stronger from this crisis.

A version of this article originally appeared in Anadolu Agency on 14/6/2017