Qatar’s bears brunt of its support to Muslim Brotherhood
Beirut- A bitter dispute has erupted between two rich countries in the Arabian Peninsula, reminding the world that beneath layers of modernity and friendship, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are two very different — and conflicting — tribal entities that ought never be treated as equals in the complex world of Arab politics.
The Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah al-Sheikh co-signed a statement — along with 200 members of his very influential family — stressing that there was no relationship whatsoever between them and the House of Thani in Doha, which has been ruling Qatar since the late 1800s.
Even before pre-Islamic times, genealogy has been vital for Arabian tribes, explaining why such a statement struck a particularly raw nerve in Doha.
The al-Sheikh family famously traces its lineage directly to Muhammad Abdul Wahab, the founder of Wahhabism whose hard-line interpretation of Islam laid the cornerstone for the modern state of Saudi Arabia. In 2011, Qatar’s former Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani erected a mosque named for Muhammad Abdul Wahab in Doha, claiming they were descendants of the same family tree. In the world of tribes and history, this gave Qatar depth and importance in the Arab Gulf.
Not only were the Saudis now denying the lineage completely, they were also demanding that the mosque’s name be immediately changed. That statement gave Saudi politicians and media outlets — furious with Doha’s continued support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its warm relationship with Iran, a country with whom it shares maritime borders — a green light to come down hard on Qatar.
At no time since the establishment of Qatar in 1787 have relations been so strained with Saudi Arabia. For starters, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud doesn’t like Sheikh Tamim or his father, seeing them as flamboyant and too overtly ambitious and liberal for his taste.
Since rising to power in 2013, Sheikh Tamim, 36, has tried to treat King Salman as a political equal, rather than an elderly and wise “uncle,” as Arab custom dictates. The king of Saudi Arabia is 45 years his senior and Sheikh Tamim reportedly refuses to take his advice on Iran and the Brotherhood, seeing him as too old and disconnected.
Sheikh Tamim also has little affection for Salman’s son Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, the deputy crown prince and defence minister, who is exactly his same age. In private, Sheikh Tamim said that Saudi Arabia will descend into chaos once King Salman dies, as his son struggles to wrestle the throne from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz.
Sheikh Tamim has repeatedly refused a request by Saudi Arabia to expel Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the ageing Egyptian ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood who has been living in Qatar since 1961. Despite his vocal criticism of Saudi Arabia, Qaradawi is an all-time favourite at the Emir’s Palace in Doha and a regular speaker on Al Jazeera, the popular television network established by Sheikh Tamim’s father in the 1990s.
The Saudi media unleashed a tirade of insults and accusations against Qatar, accusing it of being allied to al-Qaeda and a stooge of Iran. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have blocked Al Jazeera broadcasts in their countries and withdrawn their ambassadors from Doha. Rumour has it that Qatar might get sanctioned — perhaps expelled from the GCC — for its behaviour.
In 1992, two Qatari soldiers were killed after Saudi forces attacked a Qatari border post, shoving bilateral relations to an all-time low. The two countries broke off diplomatic relations in 2002 for six years over comments aired by Al Jazeera. They did it again in 2014, because of Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood.
When Qatar gained its independence in 1971, Saudi Arabia was at the height of its oil wealth and political influence, prompting the Qataris to cuddle up to the powerful Saudi monarch, King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. King Faisal showered them with political advice, money and advisers, helping set up the modern state of Qatar with Saudi funds.
In 1991 Qatar famously took part in the second Gulf War and helped liberate the Saudi city of Khafij from Iraqi occupation, endearing itself — albeit temporarily — to the House of Saud.
After the discovery of huge gas reserves in Qatar in the 1990s, relations gradually cooled. No longer in need of Saudi money, the Qataris started to chart their own course, often without consulting Riyadh, embarking on extravagant spending campaigns to project their country in the image of modernity, bidding for the FIFA World Cup in 2022, for example, and establishing the Qatar Education Foundation, with Doha campuses for leading US universities, led by Sheikh Tamim’s mother.
The real problem remains in Qatar’s backing of the Brotherhood, against Saudi Arabia’s will. Although the Saudis had hosted Brotherhood figures fleeing Egyptian persecution in the 1950s and 1960s, they soon had them expelled when Egyptian and Palestinian clerics started voicing criticism of the Saudi government and then publicly condemned its support of the Americans in Operation Desert Storm.
Qatar picked them up — one after another — using the Brotherhood to increase its leverage in Arab politics and influence the internal affairs of far larger and better-established countries such as Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.