Qatari crisis geared towards long-term showdown
London-The stand-off between Qatar and four Arab countries opposing its policies in the region seems geared towards continuing for a long time and perhaps escalating to new levels.
After meeting in Cairo on July 5, a month to the day from when the crisis erupted, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt expressed displeasure at Qatar’s response to the list of 13 demands they conveyed to the Doha government.
Qatar’s lack of responsiveness fuelled speculation about steps that could be taken by the four Arab countries. A statement after the Cairo meeting warned that: “All political, economic and legal measures will be taken in the manner and at the time deemed appropriate to preserve the four countries’ rights, security and stability.”
The idea of a secondary boycott of other countries trading with Qatar as well as additional economic sanctions were unofficially mentioned.
The stalemate prompted US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to travel to the region to try to mediate an end to the crisis.
The United States has been sending mixed signals about its stance in the conflict with President Donald Trump leaning in favour of the position of the Saudi-led bloc while the US Department of State and the Pentagon have had more ambivalent views, which seemed to reflect the consideration that Qatar hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East.
James Jeffrey, former US ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, and Simon Henderson, director of the Gulf and energy policy programme at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Doha cannot, even in a “worst-case scenario,” count on using its Al Udeid base agreement to call on the United States for help against what it could claim is “a security threat.”
“While US policy in this crisis has been opaque, it almost certainly would not side with Qatar,” they pointed out in an article for the Cipher Brief newsletter.
Although Doha’s reply to its neighbours’ demands was not made public, leaks to the Kuwaiti media indicated that Qatar’s rulers dismissed some of the demands, such as the expelling of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps elements from its territories, claiming there were none on its soil.
Doha said the demand to reduce diplomatic and economic ties with Iran would be implemented only if the other Gulf countries did the same and that the hosting of a Turkish military base was not in conflict with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) charter.
Formed in 1981, the six-country GCC has weathered many storms. But the current stand-off appears to be the GCC’s biggest challenge, with Doha’s membership hanging in the balance. Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said Qatar’s possible suspension from the GCC would be discussed in the near future during a meeting in Manama. “Decisions like these are very important… They have to be clear and well-studied,” he said.
UAE State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash previously stated that Qatar needed to “deal seriously with the demands and concerns of the neighbours or a divorce will take place.”
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al- Thani dismissed the possibility of a suspension from the GCC, saying such a decision requires a “consensus.”
The GCC crisis broke out June 5 with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severing diplomatic and transport ties with Doha, over its alleged links to extremist groups and Iran. The four countries demand Qatar end its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood movement and downgrade ties with Iran, among other demands. Qatar denies all allegations.