Amidst Gulf Friction

By Yasir M’alik.

Qatar, a tiny oil rich nation, having friendship with big armies and a wealth fund of $335 billion, largest producer of natural gas in the Middle Eastern region, have been subjected to intended diplomatic and economic isolation by Saudi-led bloc, following some alleged allegations over supporting Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt), Hamas (Palestine), prospective alignment with Iran and also over backing of Al-Jazeera (state-sponsored media-outlet based in Qatar).

The process that triggered the crisis began in May 2017 when the Qatar News Agency website was hacked and a false statement was released in the name of Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, indicated the importance of Iran for the stability of the region. Qatar stated that the statement was false and came from an unknown source. Despite all the explanations, the Arab media continued to make statements against Qatar that has led Saudi officials to abruptly cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar, imposed trade bans on Qatar, closed the land borders for all Qatari passengers, blocked its territorial waters and ports for vessels sailing from and to Qatar. Ironically, Saudi bloc is not content with censoring their own media instead they want to shut down all media outlets inside gulf that reveals the inconvenient truth about their regimes.The UAE and Saudi Arabia have restricted Al-Jazeera from the wireless transmissions and shut the channel’s workplaces.

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One of Saudi’s bloc main problems with Qatar centers around Hamas, a Palestinian group which calls itself a resistance movement fighting Israeli occupation. The Saudi bloc is adamant that Hamas are terrorists and insists that it should not be allowed sanctuary in Qatar. Hamas, as per its charter, calls itself a national govt. that does not seek war with Jewish people, won a popular election in the West bank and Gaza in 2006 but were only allowed to form a government in Gaza strip. Hamas is still in power in the strip. Its core ideology which was revamped earlier this year calls for the liberation of Palestinian areas that were occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. Though the new position does not recognize the state of Israel which implies to accept another state outside the pre-1967 borders. Debating over the legitimacy of Hamas, Israel in tandem with some Saudi and US allies put it into the list of terrorist organizations while many other significant countries including China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Turkey don’t. The European Union’s top court took Hamas off its terror list last year. Even Jewish activists are in two minds about the group. The decision to block Qatar over its support to Hamas has drawn sharp criticism from the Arab streets as well including citizens of Egypt and UAE.

Qatar, besides its support to Hamas, is also a backer of Muslim Brotherhood (a strong ally of Hamas) that was first democratically elected regime with broad popular support in the Egypt and had been toppled in 2013 violent military coup, sacking President Muhammed Morsi, a member of Muslim Brotherhood and jailed him along with its numerous party members. Saudi elite supported Egyptian President General Sisi in toppling democratic regime as it considers democracy around its borders inimical to their monarchy system which propel Arab youth to call for democracy in their countries.

Saudi’s bloc shortsighted sanctions on Qatar have also brought Israel on the same page with Saudi Arabia over the rift, provided Israel an opportunity to normalize its presence in the region.Top Israeli Intelligence official praised Saudi’s decision and called Qatar ‘a pain in the ass’ as Qatar has continuously criticized Israel for occupying Palestinian lands. It has also dished out money to Hamas and hosted its leaders in Doha. Another propellant feature of this bonhomie is that Qatar also funds Al-Jazeera, a channel which blatantly broadcasted Arab Spring as well as frequently reproaches Israel for human rights abuses in the occupied territories. Some revelations also argue that the real issue with Qatar has nothing to do with cosying up to Iran. Even UAE has booming trade relations with Iran yet they are part of the coalition accusing Qatar of siding with Iran.

Evidently, Saudi Arabia has not earned as much support even from inside the Gulf locale with the exception of UAE and Bahrain as it had assumed following its endeavors to isolate Qatar. Oman, one of two Gulf states to have shunned joining the Saudi-UAE crusade, has opened its ports to Qatar compensating Saudi shipping embargo. Turkey, obstinately, rejected the Saudi embargo against Qatar, sided with Qatar and made all preparations to help Qatar in bad times. Since the beginning of the crisis, Turkish airlines’ cargo planes made 15 flights and transported a thousand tons of food and beverages to Doha to meet Qatar’s immediate need for food due to blockade.Besides deploying troops and establishing its military base in Qatar, it continues to project high level diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned his Russian counterpart, US President, King of Saudi, Emir of Kuwait and has requested to ease the tension. In the same manner, many other states including Pakistan and some gulf countries have refrained themselves from siding any bloc. Pakistan has maintained its traditional stance that it would not take side in any event that would create division within the Muslim World. US part in the midst of the present crack appears to be very questionable. The US administration is by all accounts seems to be at inverse finishes over the crisis as President Trump escalated tensions blaming its close military accomplice,Qatar,‘a funder for terrorism’ while, Rex Tillerson, US secretary of State, had prior asked Saudi Arabia and partners to broke the barricade as it is hampering US military endeavors against Islamic State and causing unintended humanitarian consequences. Meanwhile, US administration signed a deal of selling F-15 fighter jets to Qatar for $12 billion.

Saudi imprudent sanctions on Qatar brought many strategic miscalculations in the region as well. It is neither compassionate nor insightful to blacklist a Muslim state, regardless of the possibility that Qatar disregarded global law and strategic set of principles, ought to its 3 million populace be left to starve?

An investigation by Le Monde newspaper revealed that Saudi Arabia has used its influence to pressure Muslim majority countries to reduce diplomatic ties with Qatar. Besides Egypt, some of the Gulf countries have also cut or reduced ties with Qatar. The report also suggested that Saudi Arabia has threatened to withhold aid and make it difficult for some of the countries to get the visa for the Hajj (pilgrimage). Additionally, Saudi Arabia also offered Somalia’s govt. $80 million to cut ties with Qatar. It’s not the first time Saudi Arabia has been accused of using its influence in Africa. In 2016, Somalia received an aid pledge of $50 million from Saudi Arabia, the same day it cut diplomatic ties with Iran after an attack on the Saudi consulate in Tehran. And it’s not just the African countries that Saudi Arabia has influenced over. The Maldives was one of the first countries to cut ties with Qatar where Saudi Arabia pledged to invest $10 billion a few months earlier.

Qatar’s foreign minister while rejecting the accusations stated the embargo as an infringement of international law and said that it was an attempt to activate global supposition against the Gulf emirate.US, France, Germany have offered mediation to commence arrangements to resolve the crisis. Pakistan has taken a step ahead as Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accompanied with Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Jeddah, met with Saudi’s Premier Shah Salman a few days ago, to discuss and defuse the diplomatic crisis. Turkey also stepped up beyond rhetorics and has heightened its conciliatory endeavors to intercede amongst Qatar and the Arab countries. Following these developments, positive strides are motioned toward an answer for the Gulf emergency. Just regulating coordinated and collective regional arrangement can enable the Gulf to rise up out of this emergency. Something else, an answer for this emergency will be hard to accomplish.

About Author:

The writer is a research fellow at South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, London.

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