Can Qatar pay the price of escalation?
It has been more than a month since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar. A statement after the latest meeting between the four countries’ foreign ministers threatened further retaliation, highlighting Qatar’s “destructive role” and its “negative” response to the Arab quartet’s demands and insisting on Qatar’s “ties to terrorism.”
What is more important than all of that is that the quartet has retracted the deal made with Qatar.
The Cairo meeting’s official communiqué praised Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah’s efforts to mediate, which have had international backing. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had a telephone conversation with Sheikh Sabah on the crisis with Qatar and visited Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan was clear and straightforward when he said that Qatar cares more about extremism and terrorism than it does about its neighbours. He added that Qatar must “switch paths from destruction to construction or risk remaining isolated.”
Sheikh Abdullah’s crisp speech contrasts with the convoluted declarations of Qatar’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. The latter keeps running in circles and reverting to excuses, such as wanting to prevent other countries from “meddling in Qatar’s affairs” or interfering with “Qatar’s sovereignty.” It would have been best to go straight to the heart of the matter rather than waste time on pointless arguments.
Qatar has resorted to these delaying tactics because there is no real willingness to seriously confront the tiny state. Those who, in the past, allowed Qatar to do what it did find themselves lacking the courage to end Qatar’s evil game. Changes, however, are on the way.
All concerned parties must understand there is a new kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is true that signs of change in traditional Saudi policy have appeared since 2011, when Saudi troops entered Bahrain to stop an alleged coup that the government accused Iran of orchestrating. It is, however, under the leadership of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud that these changes will reveal their full dimensions.
Qatar was wrong to believe that it could bide its time in the era of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz. The Saudi kingdom went beyond its decision in 2013 to confront the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
We must admit that when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani seized power from his own father in 1995, he changed Qatar. He also upset the balance of power in the Gulf and beyond, reaching as far as Lebanon, Egypt and Libya.
Sheikh Hamad was daring. In 2006, for example, he backed Hezbollah in its war against Israel, a war that brought only suffering and destruction to Lebanon but allowed Syrian President Bashar Assad to refer to the other Gulf leaders as “ghosts of men.” Through that gesture, Qatar’s goal was to embarrass Saudi Arabia.
We must also admit that Qatar has no particular or private interests with Iran. Still, it turned a blind eye to Iran’s expansionist plan in the Gulf and seemed to overlook that this plan was steeped in a deep hatred for anything Arab and was based on engulfing the region in destructive, sectarian strife. Qatar supported Iran when it tried to cover up its involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri by instigating a war between Lebanon and Israel. As usual, it was Lebanon and the Lebanese who paid the price of that war.
Once again, the rules of the game in the Gulf region are changing. Once again, the region is saying enough to the Qatari Al Jazeera channel. For some years, Doha has relied on the Muslim Brotherhood network to meddle in Arab affairs. That network has lost its punch.
It is useless for Qatar to wave the Iranian card in its possession. That card is double-edged. Iran is going through a deep economic recession coupled with an internal power struggle. It is constantly trying to cover up that sinister reality by engaging in foreign adventures. Does Qatar wish to become enslaved by such a country? Qatar seems to have forgotten that the Gulf Cooperation Council was created as a protective umbrella against the Iranian threat.
The Turkish card is no better that the Iranian one. What will Recep Tayyip Erdogan demand as his price for continuing to support Qatar? Turkey has an insatiable appetite for foreign aid and investment. During his recent visit to Kuwait, the Turkish president discussed with his Kuwaiti hosts only specific projects in which opportunities exist for Turkish companies.
The rules of the game in the Gulf region are indeed changing. Qatar also changed when Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani took over from his father. We still wonder if the men responsible for these changes realise that the price for escalating the confrontation with the Arab quartet is much higher than the price of agreeing to their demands.