Author: Natig NAZIMOGLU
A break among the Arab countries remains one of the central topics of the world politics for a couple of weeks now. Ten countries have decided to isolate Qatar, but the underlying causes of this decision go far beyond the Arab community.
Breaking up with Doha
A statement that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen, Egypt, Libya, the Maldives, the Republic of Mauritius, Mauritania, and the Comoros break up diplomatic relations and cease all land, air and sea communications with Doha was totally unexpected. Thus, the seemingly idyllic relations between the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf was merely a myth...
Qatar is accused of supporting terrorism and extremism, as well as interfering in the affairs of other Arab states. A special point in this list of accusations is the building of normal relations with Iran. The latter aspect causes extreme discontent, particularly in Saudi Arabia, which considers Iran its main rival for leadership in the Muslim world.
At the same time, the Arab countries are irritated by Doha’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood and the associated Sunni groups. This is especially a matter of concern for Egypt, which joined the anti-Qatar campaign. Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, came to power after the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood’s leader Mohammed Mursi and declared a real war against this organization.
In fact, all these accusations against Qatar are only a manifestation of contradictions developing amidst the aspirations of a number of Arab countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, to regional hegemony. In recent years, Qatar, the richest country in the world in terms of per capita income, has become a financially and economically powerful player not only in the Gulf region, but in the entire Arab space. Doha is known to be one of the main sponsors of the so-called Arab Revolution that led to the change of regimes in Tunisia, Libya and other countries. Qatar supports a number of Islamist groups fighting in Iraq and Syria, and unlike Riyadh, which stands for radical Wahhabi groups, Doha mainly relies on structures allied with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Another conflict of interests between Riyadh and Doha lies in the energy sector, as Qatar is one of the richest suppliers of the natural gas. Some believe that one of the reasons that has provoked the Syrian crisis was the West’s intention to conduct a gas pipeline from Qatar to Europe via Syria.
However, it is impossible to have a holistic view of the Qatar crisis without considering a rapid development of events in another the Middle Eastern region. It is about the situation around Iran, which is an important component of geopolitical confrontation on a regional and global scale. Especially if you analyze the existing situation having Qatar as one of the influencing factors.
Iran and the sword dance
In fact, two events became a main reason for dissatisfaction with Qatar as a country that maintains normal relations with Iran. First, despite sharp criticism of Iran by the United States and Saudi Arabia at the Arab-Islamic-American summit in Riyadh, the Qatari news agency released a statement by the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, expressing his dissatisfaction with the military deal between Washington and Riyadh for $110 billion and a need to support the dialogue with Tehran. Subsequently, Doha denied the authenticity of this speech claiming that fake remarks attributed to the Emir of Qatar were posted on the website of Qatar News Agency by hackers. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and other countries hostile to Iran did not believe Qatar’s explanations, which was one of the reasons for the abrupt cutting of their relations with Doha.
Secondly, accusations that Qatar paid a ransom of up to $1 billion “to a terrorist group active in Iraq” to release kidnapped members of its royal family also added fuel to the fire. Financial Times reported that the ransom was paid to one of the cells of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda in Syria, and to the special services of Iran. Apparently, mentioning of Iran has become yet another argument in favor of cooperation between Doha and Tehran for the Saudis and their allies.
However, the United States play a much greater role than Riyadh in unwinding of anti-Iranian rhetoric in the Arab-Sunni world. In fact, the new American administration is reconsidering Washington's previous policy towards Iran, which was effective during the presidency of Barack Obama. The Trump administration is even questioning the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, which has been possible mainly due to the Obama administration’s refusal to pursue a military solution to the Iranian issue. Trump, however, makes it clear that he is ready for any decisive action to counteract the expansion of Iranian influence in the Middle East. As a pretext for attacks on Iran, his administration claims that Iran supports terrorism. At the same time, the U.S. is again planning to take advantage of military cooperation with Saudi Arabia, which Iran and some other countries explicitly or implicitly accuse of supporting terrorist groups operating in Syria and Iraq under the banner of Wahhabism.
It is worth mentioning that the Iranian leadership made statements about the terrorist attacks in Tehran amidst the Qatar diplomatic crisis. Deputy head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), General Hossein Salami, drew attention to the fact that the terrorist attacks in Iran occurred shortly after the meeting of the American president with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, who “support the terrorists.” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated that “the Iranians counter terror backed by the U.S. clients” referring to Saudi Arabia.
Tehran’s response to the boycott of Qatar, which actually pays for its loyalty to Iran, is also noteworthy. “This is the first result of a dance with swords,” said Hamid Abutalebi, Deputy Head of the Administration of Iranian President, hinting at a traditional al-ardah dance jointly performed by the U.S. president Trump and the Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz.
Indeed, it is difficult to get rid of the impression that the anti-Qatar campaign is inspired by the transatlantic superpower. It is also impossible to ignore Trump’s statement about Qatar’s high-level support of terrorists. However, it is necessary to underline an important point here: for a long time, Qatar along with other Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf acted as a strategic ally of Washington. Suffice to say that the U.S. military base is still operating on the territory of the emirate. But this fact, which had a huge strategic significance under the former U.S. administration supporting the liberal globalism, has lost its appeal under President Trump. The incumbent host of the White House is actually implementing a course, which places the liberal-globalist interests in the background. That is the reason why Washington has reviewed its “Iranian policy”. Trump's decision to publicly punish Qatar, which contrary to the White House’s interests was rubbing elbows with Tehran, is an explicit manifestation of such a revision.
In fact, the demarche of several Arab countries supported by the U.S. means Qatar’s isolation. Immediately after the announcement of abrupt cutting of diplomatic relations, Qatar’s stock market collapsed with a drastic fall of the shares of the National Bank of Qatar. Due to termination of trade operations with the “Gulf brothers”, the population expects a shortage of goods and a rise in prices, hence massively buying up food, medicines and basic necessities. However, Qatar still has a potential to break through the blockade and even prevent a possible pressure from the enemies.
Being in blockade, Qatar had only one way open - through the Persian Gulf to Iran. Thus, Iran helped Qatar expressing readiness to supply the Emirate with the necessary food.
Meanwhile, there were countries ready to ensure direct military support to Doha. Like Turkey, which highly appreciates Qatar's support for the Free Syrian Army in the bloody war in Syria. It is not surprising that Turkey considers the actions against Qatar as a move against Ankara, which allegedly aims to weaken the Russian-Turkish-Iranian interaction in the Syrian settlement.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that Ankara was upset by the decision of several Arab countries to cut diplomatic relations with Qatar. Instead, he called for continuation of the dialogue between them. By the way, Moscow also expressed its disinterest in the Qatar crisis and indirectly supported Doha in its unfolding confrontation with Washington, Riyadh and others.
However, Ankara took yet another strategically significant step to support Qatar. The Turkish parliament ratified the agreement with Qatar on the deployment of the military contingent of Turkey on the territory of this country. Immediately after that, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed an order ratifying the agreement. In fact, Ankara established a strategic alliance with Doha based on an agreement on strengthening bilateral cooperation signed by the parties back in 2014. Ankara also announced a dispatch of its military troops to Qatar and the establishment of a Turkish military base in this Emirate, making it clear that she would not tolerate any offense against Doha.
Following Turkey, Pakistan also made a similar decision to send the military troops to Qatar. It is expected that Pakistan sends to Qatar more than 20 thousand military personnel in accordance with bilateral agreements in the military sphere.
Of course, the steps taken by Ankara and Islamabad raise a number of questions. First: does the military support of Qatar mean an attack against Saudi Arabia, which is also a partner of both Turkey and Pakistan? Second: are these actions designed to promote truce between the Arab countries? Third: does the demarche of Ankara and Pakistan manifest dissatisfaction with Washington's new Middle East policy under Donald Trump, who has clearly mentioned that he would not tolerate any resistance to American plans on the reconstruction of the region?
These and other questions indicate the extreme ambiguity and complexity of the Qatar diplomatic crisis. One thing is clear though – the existing situation confirms the ultimate significance of regional processes for the global security and the entire Muslim world, in particular.