Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1323, (8 - 14 December 2016)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1323, (8 - 14 December 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Editorial: Qatari riddle

Al-Ahram Weekly

Qatar is odd. It is unique among the Arab Gulf states. A tiny statelet, rich in natural gas, it decided to defy the realities of place, size, status and influence.

Capitalising on the contradictions in Arab political culture, it carved out for itself two contradictory roles: host to two US military bases (Al-Udaid and Al-Saliyeh) and a pan-Arab and Islamist platform. The latter role it performs by means of Al-Jazeera satellite television network, which opens its doors to representatives of the two movements in exchange for generous financial rewards. Also, in rebellion against its small size and stature, it went on a huge spending spree, acquiring some the most precious items in the world, from invaluable works of art to precious gems, and acquiring and naturalising top athletes from central and eastern Europe so that Doha can display Olympic medals. Moreover, in glaring contrast to the Arab nationalist credentials it claims, it openly slights the major powers in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and weaves close relations with non-Arab states in the region, namely Turkey, Israel and Iran.

Following the eruption of the so-called Arab Spring, Qatar was highly instrumental in clearing the way for and supporting this wave. It established centres for this purpose and, of course, Al-Jazeera TV stations. It was also a major funder of individuals, groups and movements that it would use in its bid to tear down systems of government in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Libya.

Over time, the dimensions of the plan to destroy governments and disseminate chaos became increasingly clear and it was impossible to miss the fact that the ultimate aim was to fragment large states. At the same time, Qatar’s coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood became glaringly obvious. It was most provocative to Egyptians to see how the Muslim Brotherhood, after they came to power, rolled out the red carpet to Qatar and entertained such Qatari proposals for projects that would have entailed, for example, leasing out Egyptian antiquities and giving Doha control over the Suez Canal. The people of the UAE must have felt similarly in reaction to Qatar’s attempts to undermine their country’s development projects, such as the Jebel Ali Free Zone. In addition, Qatar, while the Muslim Brotherhood were in power in Egypt, also served as the conduit of Egyptian state secrets to other parties. The Muslim Brotherhood’s figurehead in the presidential palace sold to Doha highly confidential information on armaments, strategic assets and other important components of Egyptian national security. This is one of charges for which Mohamed Morsi is being prosecuted.

After the Egyptian people ousted the Muslim Brotherhood regime on 30 June 2013, Doha became the stronghold for Muslim Brotherhood rank and file and it turned Al-Jazeera into their podium for attacking Egypt and maligning the people’s revolution. The Egyptian media lashed out forcefully against the Qatari role. But then the ruling families of Saudi Arabia and the UAE appealed to Cairo to ease up on Doha so as to help the new Qatari emir make the necessary arrangements as he settles in. The animosity toward Egypt, the rebellion against size and place, the rush into the embrace of the Americans and Israelis were the father’s policies, not the son’s, they said. The son had inherited very difficult circumstances so it would be great if Cairo would help give the young emir the chance to make the necessary changes in government, enabling him to get rid of the old emir’s clique and especially former prime minister Hamed Bin Jasem.

Saudi and Emirati leaders did all in their power to give the new emir the opportunity he needed. In keeping with Bedouin traditions and conventions, they showed faith in him, only to discover in the end that he was no different from the old emir and that the change was purely superficial. The new emir followed the same policies, kept the same regional and international ties, and sustained the same aggressive policies. In fact, it appears that the animosity now extends to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Riyadh recently revealed that Doha was implicated in the failed conspiracy to assassinate the Saudi monarch and that it has been collaborating with international intelligence agencies in order to overthrow the Saudi regime. Abu Dhabi, for its part, revealed how Doha has been supporting Muslim Brotherhood plans to overthrow the government in the UAE. This was how Doha expressed its gratitude for the efforts on the part of those two countries to save Doha from the evils of its own policies. It is little wonder that their anger is so great.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain’s decision to withdraw their ambassadors may just be for starters. They have also threatened sanctions that could lead to the freezing of Qatar’s membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and perhaps its eventual expulsion from that regional bloc. The major powers of the GCC made it clear that Qatar had to change in substance, not just in form.

Doha, through some odd wilfulness, opted to defy its environment and in so doing it transformed itself into a pariah in this region. However, we believe that after the new US president assumes power 20 January, some major changes will sweep through the region as various backs lose their covers and props, and countries are forced to readjust their policies to their true size, place and status. At that point, Qatar will be reduced to its midget dimensions and be casting about for protection. But it will not be able to find it, not after having ruptured its ties with its Arab neighbours in the Gulf as well as with Egypt, Syria, Libya and other Arab nations.

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