By going international, Doha avoids addressing the real issues
Measures taken by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain against Qatar were aimed at ensuring the best conditions for a high degree of security and stability in the region by ending the damage in the areas caused by Doha’s bad political choices.
The boycotting countries have kept the crisis within the circle of the Gulf and Arab countries with no intention of harming Qatar and its people. Doha, on the other hand, has tried right from the beginning to give the crisis an international dimension.
It requested the presence of Turkish forces on its soil and moved even closer to Iran, knowing very well that its close ties with Iran were one of the reasons behind the crisis. Doha also bragged about hosting the biggest US military base and basically adopted an overly defiant and self-confident attitude.
Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani has travelled all over the world and an international propaganda campaign has been orchestrated. Most of the impromptu declarations and staged news conferences were intended for international consumption and rarely addressed the demands of the boycotting countries.
The plan was to take the crisis out of its regional context. By going international, Qatar was doing what it does best, namely “diluting crises” and escaping its responsibilities.
Qatar estimated that doing the right thing can be quite costly on more than one level. It would confine it to a position in which it would have to make great concessions to win back the trust of the boycotting countries. Instead, Qatar chose to make as much noise as possible to create the impression of a small state very much willing to cooperate but being bullied by its big enemies. It received ministers from the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and the European Union and lured many other capitals to its side.
Qatar showed a great deal of skill in trying to win over international public opinion essentially by distorting words and messages. Of the 13 conditions presented by the boycotting countries, Qatar chose to ignore the main reasons that led to the crisis and focused on a few expressions and sentences that created the impression it was being bullied.
The boycott became a siege, the terrorism Qatar supports turned into freedoms of belief and expression and the violence it condones turned into human rights.
By playing this game, Qatar grabbed the attention of many countries that either have significant economic interests with Qatar or in which Qatar has established mechanisms for economic and media influence.
In this game of cat and mouse, Qatar enlisted the professional assistance of well-known public relations firms and experts. They advised it to keep playing the international card as much as possible and to avoid addressing the regional concerns in which the boycotting countries have clear advantages capable of destroying Qatar’s distorted logic.
By keeping to the international arena, Qatar has more freedom of movement than the four boycotting countries and can thus quickly react and bog the crisis down with irrelevant issues.
From the beginning of the crisis, Qatar tried to dampen the initial blow of the boycott to divert from the main issues of the crisis by veering towards irrelevant side questions and endlessly pointless discussions. The aim, of course, was to tire the opposite side and gain time to mount a counter-attack. Such was the extent of the surprise that Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani kept a deafening silence for 40 days before addressing his troops.
By contrast, the boycotting countries had the advantage of dealing the first blow. In the end, however, they needed more time to cooperate, gather information and coordinate their efforts and positions to come up with the appropriate common response.
This, of course, was and still is the right thing to do in the long run but in the short run, it might constitute a handicap in a fast-evolving crisis. The situation required quick reactions because delays in consultation and coordination might be misconstrued. The four countries understood the stakes and harmonised the general guidelines for their reactions. A look at the performances of each individual country in politics, economics and media shows they are in line with the official recommendations of the coordination meetings.
Qatar finds no better strategy than to continue making a fuss internationally. There was a telling example in the legal complaint Qatar lodged with the World Trade Organisation against Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, claiming that their trade and travel restrictions were “coercive attempts at economic isolation.” Qatar also complained to the International Civil Aviation Organisation but to no avail.
Qatar’s last attempt at embarrassing its opponents was when it complained to the UN Security Council that Egypt was taking advantage of heading the council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee to settle political scores with specific countries. Egypt responded by publishing proof of Qatar’s backing of terrorism.
So Qatar is back to square one with the proof that giving the crisis an international dimension is costlier than resolving it at a regional level.