Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1349, (15 - 21 June 2017)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1349, (15 - 21 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Qatar and mediation

The Arab crisis with Qatar will likely escalate before it dissipates, and it could spur a palace coup in Doha, writes Mohamed Salmawy

I doubt Kuwait’s kind efforts to mediate in the dispute between Qatar and its neighbours, which are angered by Doha’s renegade policies, will yield much, not even after France — and somewhat cautiously the US — joined in. The blockade that the Arab states have imposed on Qatar is in protest against its support for terrorist organisations and, particularly, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the mother organisation of all terrorist groups. This is the crux of the crisis that is still in the process of escalating and efforts to calm it are unlikely to succeed before it peaks and all parties involved genuinely desire to reach a settlement.

Although at the outset the crisis seemed confined to the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plus Egypt, its scope quickly broadened. After Libya, Yemen and, to some extent, Jordan joined the embargo, the Maldives and Mauritius followed suit. Then some non-Arab countries such as Senegal and Chad recalled their ambassadors from Doha.

Perhaps the harshest measure taken against on Qatar was Saudi Arabia’s closure of their mutual border. This effectively imposed a total land blockade on Qatar which was intensified by the other countries’ decisions to close their airspace to Qatar, creating a near total siege around that tiny peninsula. Some countries that had not severed ties with Qatar found themselves forced to suspend flights to Qatar because boycotting countries, such as the UAE, had closed all sea and air ports to traffic to or from Qatar, regardless of the nationality of the carriers be they Moroccan or otherwise. Royal Air Maroc, which offers many flights between West Africa and Asia that pass via Doha, had to cancel such flights.

Qatar’s Abu Samra border crossing with Saudi Arabia receives an average of 350,000 visitors per month and some 600 to 800 lorries pass through there everyday bringing basic foodstuffs and other commodities into Qatar. The aviation embargo has prevented the arrival of other vital substances. Qatar Airways had 19 flights a day to Dubai, six to Abu Dhabi, six to Kuwait, five to Manama, five to Jeddah and four to Riyadh. All have been grounded.

The first signs of the impact of all these measures were felt the day after Riyadh and others ruptured relations. The Qatari stock market announced a seven per cent plunge in the first hour of trading that day and Qatari sovereign bonds fell to their lowest level since March. Financial analysts predict that if the trend continues, Qatar’s credit rating will be reduced.

Qatar’s response to the embargo was to escalate its attacks on the countries that ruptured relations with it. The Qatari media virtually the country’s only weapon — took the lead. It described the campaign as an attempt to impose a mandate on Qatar and declared that Qatar refused to cave in to “Saudi conditions”. Doha also contacted Tehran and Ankara, the former declaring that it would keep all its airspace open to Qatari planes and the latter, more curiously, announcing that Turkish troops were preparing to head to Qatar following the Turkish parliament’s approval of a bill of law to deploy troops there. Also from Ankara came talk of a Turkish-Qatari military alliance following the establishment of a Turkish military base in Qatar.

The suddenness of the embargo has led some analysts to draw a direct connection with US President Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh last month. However, the decision actually has its origins in 2014 when the leaders of the same four GCC states that have just severed relations with Doha invited the Qatari emir to Riyadh where they had him sign a pledge to cease policies that the other countries deemed hostile. On the basis of that agreement, Qatar expelled some Muslim Brotherhood members who moved to Turkey. The Qatari emir, at the time, did not describe his approval of the agreement as a capitulation to Saudi conditions. He signed it without discussion. But, soon afterwards Qatar lapsed into its former ways, reviving its support for terrorist and takfiri groups and escalating its invective against Arab regimes. This is what prompted those countries to act more resolutely, this time, by rupturing diplomatic relations and imposing a land, sea and air embargo.

I predict that the crisis will grow more acute during the next few months until Qatar begins to reel under the strains and demonstrate its willingness to undertake the necessary changes in its policies. It will need to stop opening its arms to terrorist movements and giving them a platform to act against Qatar’s neighbours and it will have to cease the hostile rhetoric that has characterised the approach of its media towards these countries since its media apparatus was established in the 1980s.

There are reports that a GCC foreign ministers meeting is to be held soon in order to contain the crisis. However, the meeting (perhaps inspired by US pressure) will probably turn out to be a “hearing” in which attendees will present their allegations and charge sheets against Doha. If so, this will only aggravate the crisis further. Qatar has not yet reached the point where it is prepared to make the required policy changes. Nevertheless, that point will have to come eventually, which begs the question as to who will make the necessary changes in Qatari policy. Will it be the current emir or someone else? Under the pressures of the embargo, suppressed internal conflicts within the Qatari ruling family will probably burst into the open. If this triggers a repetition of the palace coup scenario, which appears to be the preferred method of rotation of authority in Qatar, then the person responding to Kuwait’s or another party’s mediating efforts will not be the current emir.

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