Thursday,20 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)
Thursday,20 June, 2019
Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Qatar on the back burner

Informed diplomats tell Dina Ezzat that while a degree of de-escalation on Qatar may soon follow, the issue will not be easily resolved or forgotten


Qatar on the  back burner
Qatar on the back burner

It is week eight for the Qatar crisis. According to Arab and Western diplomatic sources both, the end is not near.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan conducted the most recent round of mediation to find an exit from the Qatar crisis. He visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar with an in-between stop in Kuwait, the Arab Gulf country that launched an earlier mediation process.

Starting a form of direct talks between the parties of the crisis is the basic objective of the Turkish initiative, similar to that of the Kuwaitis and even the Americans, whose secretary of state was in the Gulf on the matter two weeks ago, informed diplomats say.

This is a more advanced objective than that of attempted European mediations, including by France, Britain and Germany, whose foreign ministers were also in leading Gulf capitals during the past few weeks on separate missions that essentially tried to “communicate messages” on what could be done, especially by Doha, to resolve the crisis.

The chances of Erdogan were not any better than those of previous mediators, according to the same diplomats.

In the words of one Egyptian diplomat, “Erdogan did not stand a chance to resolve the matter. We would not have gone along with him given his obvious alliance with Qatar in promoting extremism and given his position on Cairo, which is obviously problematic.”

Erdogan was open in his criticism of political change in Egypt in the summer of 2013 that abruptly ended the rule of president Mohamed Morsi with whom he was clearly aligned.

Unlike other world capitals that were sceptical on those developments, Erdogan openly opposed them.

“It is not just a matter of opposition. He is giving refuge to the Muslim Brotherhood and he is using them to intervene in the internal affairs of Egypt. And he is also using his Islamist ties to disrupt Egyptian efforts to bring secular rule to Libya because he wants Islamist rule there,” the same Egyptian diplomat said.

He added that the UAE shares Egypt’s position on Erdogan, “and I think it was obvious that he did not visit Abu Dhabi”.

Informed Riyadh and Cairo-based diplomats agree that eight weeks down the road of the crisis that was started in June, the four players in the Saudi-led anti-Qatar grouping remain of the same opinion.

In the words of one, “none of them has decided to open up to direct talks and apart from having shown realism on a demand of closing down Al-Jazeera, they seem to be all sticking to the guidelines of their demands.”

He insisted that this is the case even though the four countries “had been forced by the positions of leading international capitals, especially the US, to forgo” a list of 13 demands that they had put across to Qatar earlier and agree instead to six guidelines for conducting relations with Qatar put forward by Washington.

On Monday, the four countries jointly issued a list of humanitarian organisations and donors who were deemed “supportive of terror”. According to the list, they are mostly Qatari, Yemeni and Libyan based organisations and individuals.

“This is precisely the point. This is not only about Qatar’s support of radical groups but it is also about Libya, Yemen and Syria – among other things,” said an informed Cairo-based European diplomat.

She added that Egypt has a long history of diplomatic rows with Qatar, “but we all remember that a few months ago [last year] the Gulf Cooperation Council issued a statement to support Qatar against Egyptian accusations of Doha’s involvement in destabilising Egypt. This is not the position now.”

According to this and other informed diplomats, Abu Dhabi has managed to convince Riyadh that eliminating the role of Doha is in the interest of everyone in the Gulf, especially given the upcoming transition of power in Saudi Arabia that is shrouded in Saudi complexities.

“Clearly, the Emirates worries about the Muslim Brotherhood, and their concern about the stability of ruling regimes in the region is related to the potential influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is why the Emirates have always had an issue with Qatar,” said a Turkish diplomat who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly by phone.

He added that it is an open secret that the UAE would rather not see Erdogan in office. In remarks made a few months ago, a highly informed UAE political analyst said his country is well aware of Erdogan’s attempt to “Islamise the rule of all Arab countries in order to make them followers of his power. He wants to sell himself to the West as the leader of an incredible Sunni bloc that could actually corner Iran.”

The same analyst said that this point was repeatedly stressed during talks of his country’s officials with the rulers of Saudi Arabia upon the ascent of King Salman bin Abdel-Aziz to power.

He argued that King Abdullah, the Saudi ruler who died in 2015, was “always of the same opinion” but that it took time for the current rulers in Riyadh to adopt the same perception.

Now, Middle East based foreign diplomats say, there is a very strong tie between the effective ruler of the UAE, Mohamed bin Zayed, and the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia, Mohamed bin Salman, who just a few weeks ago was made crown prince to replace his paternal uncle and Saudi Minister of Interior Mohamed bin Nayef.

The same diplomats say that this “alliance” was essential in facilitating relations between Cairo and Riyadh during months of tension over the recently completed handover of two Red Sea islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian officials, who do not deny elements of disagreements between Cairo and Abu Dhabi, acknowledge the latter’s essential role in securing political and economic support for Egypt in 2013.

According to one, “when examining the current Gulf crisis, and the chances to have the current [Qatar] crisis resolved, the question to ask should be: would the UAE and Egypt agree to put to waste the work of the past four years to undermine the Muslim Brotherhood, not just in Egypt, but also in Libya and Syria?”

A European diplomat who previously served in the Gulf said that the position of  Mohamed bin Salman seems to be the same until now, and “not just because he is convinced by the argument that the worst threat to his future would be through a potential Qatari Shia-Sunni dispute in his country, that is already trying to quell the political rise of the Shia in Yemen,” which is perceived by Riyadh as its immediate backyard.

The same diplomat added: “Mohamed bin Salman, in the course of securing a firm grip over power in his country, might have to ease tension with Qatar with whom he can reach a deal on Syria, with the help of the Americans, so that he would have secured his country’s position as uncontested leader of the GCC via a political victory in Syria where the Saudis have invested a lot during the past five years.”

A Riyadh-based diplomat shares the same assessment, saying media escalation against Qatar has started to slow down. “When the Emir of Qatar made a statement Saturday I did not find the same level of attack that I would have expected,” he stated.

On Saturday, the Emir of Qatar Tamim Al-Thani made his first televised statement since the beginning of the crisis whereby he expressed openness, with obvious qualified language on the need for “mutual respect of sovereignty.”

It is known in diplomatic quarters that Qatar has been sending messages to Saudi Arabia, especially through the US, that it is willing to accommodate its demands away from the “four countries grouping.” However, no diplomats shared knowledge of any direct talks between Doha and Riyadh in a clear sign that while the crisis might not be set to escalate, it would not be immediately resolved.

Arab foreign ministers were planning a meeting in Manama later this week to discuss the matter. However, as the Weekly was going to print, the word was that “consultations” might take place on the sidelines of an Arab League foreign ministers meeting that is scheduled for Thursday (27 July) to discuss recent Israeli violations of Palestinian rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

“This is not to say that the Manama meeting is cancelled, but if the foreign ministers would all be in Cairo then they might follow up on the situation. It would not be resolved tomorrow, and the four countries will continue to discuss the matter,” said the Egyptian diplomat.

In recent statements, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Korkash said the crisis is now put on the back burner. He denied that it had been put into deep freeze.

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