Qatar can survive ongoing diplomatic crisis

 15 Jun 2017 - 20:58

The decision by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt on June 5 to sever diplomatic and commercial relations with Qatar has created an unprecedented political uproar in the region. Similar crises had emerged before too, but this time the assault seems far more severe not only because some other small players such as Maldives, Mauritania and Yemen have joined the group, but the unpredictable US President Donald Trump has come forward with his support for the action. With the closure of Qatar’s air, sea and land links disrupting its exports and imports particularly affecting food supplies, the situation has turned grave. A gleeful Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s defense minister, is also reported to have praised the measures against Qatar because he finds “many possibilities of cooperation in the struggle against terror” in the action.

Is Qatar so dangerous for the rest of the world? What has the tiny Gulf state done to cause so much “security threat” to neighbouring countries and beyond?

Qatar has been accused of supporting terror groups and the Palestinian Hamas has been identified as one of those groups. But what kind of assistance has Qatar really provided to Hamas? Has Qatar provided Hamas with arms to fight Israel, for example? The fact is that Israel and Egypt have jointly blocked Gaza, causing huge humanitarian affliction for the people in the Strip. Yes, Qatar has sent humanitarian assistance to Gaza and perhaps granted visas to some Hamas leaders to temporarily reside in the country. But is it Qatar’s fault that the people of Gaza have elected Hamas to represent them? Should Qatar then have ignored the sufferings of the Gazan people?

One should remember in this context that King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, was a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause. He strongly protested against President Truman’s decision to recognize Israel in 1948 and rejected an American grant for Saudi Arabia. He strongly believed that the United States had violated the rights of Palestinians by supporting the creation of the state of Israel in Palestine. The king’s position on the issue was no different than the position that Hamas holds today on the question of Palestine.

Qatar has also been accused of supporting the Egyptian Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). What sort of assistance has Qatar provided to MB other than humanitarian? More than half-a-century ago when Egyptian MB encountered persecution at home, many of its members sought shelter in Saudi Arabia. Wise leaders in Saudi Arabia did provide them with shelter, but as a result Saudi Arabia benefitted a lot too. At a time when Saudi Arabia had very few educated and trained manpower, highly professional and qualified MB members made significant contributions to the creation of what is Saudi Arabia today. Why have the MB members lost Saudi goodwill? Answer to this question may be connected to the current crisis.

According to an analyst, “The real reason behind the diplomatic fallout may be far simpler, and once again has to do with a long-running and controversial topic, namely Qatar’s regional natural gas dominance.”  But this may be too simplistic. David Hearst of the Middle East Eye in an article enumerates “three potential motives behind the tension between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours”, and identifies “to finish the job started in June 2013 when Mursi was toppled” as one of the motives, and to us this makes sense.

Mursi was a MB member and the only civilian in Egypt’s history to have been elected by the people. If a terrorist is defined as “a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims” — as is defined by an English dictionary — then who is a terrorist? Mursi, the first civilian president of the country elected in a credible election, or Abdul Fattah Al Sisi, who usurped power from Mursi by force?

Fundamentally the ancient regimes in the region did not seem happy about the 2011 uprisings and seemed to hold Qatar responsible for educating people to stand for their rights. Therefore, Qatar’s fault was to establish the Al-Jazeera news networks, bringing BBC’s Doha debate to the country, establish think-tanks, and a number of American universities in Qatar to educate not only Qataris but also everybody in the region. Why are the accusers against Qatar so afraid of education? Do they consider the people in the region foolish? Do the people not understand what is good and what is harmful for them?

The timing of the action by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE is important. Why have they taken this rather extreme step now? These countries were already concerned because of the Arab uprisings of 2011 but became furious since the Egyptian MB received people’s mandate in 2012.

While holding Qatari news media responsible for such developments, they perhaps thought that the Trump presidency would facilitate them in achieving their mischievous objective to eliminate the popular movement. However, they do not seem to know the fact that the US has a constitution that ensures checks and balances. No matter how unpredictable a president could be, the president cannot impose his whimsical determination on the nation. More than a week has passed and there is no sign that the embargo against Qatar is receiving US support. In fact, Trump’s tweets and statements have been challenged by a number of government institutions including the State Department and the Pentagon.

The leaked email correspondence of the UAE’s ambassador to Washington has demonstrated “that there is a growing axis between some of the Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Israel.” Therefore, Avigdor Lieberman’s gleeful desire for cooperation on the pretext of security should not surprise observers of ongoing developments in the region. Many other Israeli leaders have also been cheerful and hopeful about the possible outcome of the Qatar crisis. According to the Jerusalem Post, “Israel benefits when it is not the center of attention and certainly when it is not under pressure. This is a boon for the government.”

Zionism’s greater Israel project has already succeeded in splitting Iraq and Syria into many sectarian pieces, the Gulf crisis will perhaps extend that sectarianism and tribalism to the extended region. This is not to suggest that Israel alone is responsible for the civil war in Iraq and Syria, but Israel knows very well how to take advantage of a youth that have lost hope and are suffering from severe economic difficulties.

David Hearst, in the article quoted above, predicts: “Out of the havoc they are wreaking, a new, autonomous and modern Arabia will, eventually, emerge”. We would like to add that this new modern Arabia will be based on principles of caring for one another, human dignity and self-respect; not on the basis of the superiority of races, tribes or lineages. Qatar survived similar attacks in 2014 and came out stronger.

This time too it is expected to demonstrate its resilience. Enemies of Qatar had perhaps designed to create a food shortage in the month of Ramadan, thinking that the country would succumb to pressure immediately. However, they must have miscalculated the level of spiritual strength that Ramadan brings to believers. One must not underestimate the strength of the spirituality of Qataris.

It is interesting to note that the social media in these countries seem to have reacted sharply against the measures on Qatar. That is why they have now banned people from even publishing expressions of sympathy towards Qatar in the social media. This is a sign of desperation and usually defeated parties adopt such attitudes toward such acts. There is a strong possibility that Qatar will come out much stronger from this crisis.