Dealing with the Gulf crisis
Nearly a fortnight after the crisis over Qatar’s maverick policies began there is little sign Doha is interested in any meaningful de-escalation.
The gas-rich Gulf state refuses to admit to being wrong about its dangerous foreign policy choices, preferring to defend them instead as “independent” and “sovereign.” It continues to demonstrate a stubborn unwillingness to take on board the concerns raised by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Qatar is pretty much isolated by air, land and sea — and the crisis will not go away by Doha claiming it is business as usual.
Qatar needs to realise its limits. It cannot refuse to recognise the regional anxieties caused by its support for Islamist radicals. For years, Hamas and Taliban activists, as well as leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, have found shelter and aid on Qatari soil. Emboldened by their host’s political and monetary support, radical Islamists of various stripes set about interfering in the domestic politics of sovereign Gulf states. Is it any wonder Qatar’s neighbours finally said enough is enough?
What happens next depends on Qatar. The other Gulf states have responsibly signalled they are not contemplating military action or any move that could hinder the smooth operations of the US airbase in Qatar.
A possible endgame is clear. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash has explicitly stated that the showdown was not about regime change but about “a change of policy, change of approach.” Senior officials of the Gulf Arab states have emphasised their commitment to the traditional ties that bind the people of the region. Saudi Arabia has even expressed its willingness to provide food aid to Qatar. It is clear the Gulf countries realise that all political conflicts eventually end but that neighbours will always be neighbours.
Does Qatar have the same responsible understanding of what it means to live in a region and how to deal with neighbours?
The ball is in Doha’s court. Disparate attempts at honest mediation are under way, not least by the emir of Kuwait. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has telephoned Qatar’s emir and stressed the need to resolve the situation through dialogue. France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, has talked with the emirs of Kuwait and Qatar, the kings of Saudi Arabia and Morocco and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.
There are those, however, such as Turkey, which claim to be impartial mediators but are burdened by an ideological bias. The Turkish foreign minister has been to the Gulf region but Ankara’s alignment with Muslim Brotherhood positions must give pause for thought when it comes to any role as bridge-builder. Iran’s actions throughout this crisis only reaffirm that it is part of the problem. It is hard to see it becoming part of the solution.
In the final analysis, Doha must provide honest answers to its neighbours’ questions and concerns. It must cease and desist from actions that imperil regional stability. It must address the accusations levelled at it, not least by US President Donald Trump, of funding terrorism. The endgame is not about the subjugation of Qatar but the end of a policy of unbridled overreach, which does nobody any good.