Qatar needs to realise there is a new game in town

Qatar has misjudged and downplayed the strong relations between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

2017/06/11 Issue: 110 Page: 2

The Arab Weekly
Khairallah Khairallah

The situation in the Gulf is the result of Qatar’s wrong decisions. Such decisions are likely the result of Doha’s failure to take into considera­tion the Gulf’s recent changes.

In Saudi Arabia, the new kingdom has seen the light with the coronation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 2015. In the United States, a new administra­tion has taken over from that of Barack Obama, who reduced all the crises and problems of the Middle East to just the nuclear deal with Iran.

Furthermore, Qatar has misjudged and downplayed the strong relations between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It thought it could exploit potential differences in the two countries’ viewpoints on Yemen but forgot that both countries are willing and able to resolve their differences through negotiations. Operation Determi­nation Storm is the perfect illustration of the solid relations between the two brotherly states.

Daring to tread where other Gulf countries do not, the tiny state of Qatar has wrongly assumed that it has free rein in the Gulf region. This was wrong because other countries can outdo Qatar by surpassing its schemes without making the sort of serious mistakes Doha has made, such as allowing its Al Jazeera news channel to give Osama bin Laden a wide audience after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Al Jazeera had exclusive access to bin Laden, whose taped messages praised terror­ism and warped the minds of many young people in the Gulf and in the Arab world in general. Was this a coincidence?

It must be recog­nised that, politically, Qatar is the land of paradoxes. On the one hand, it hosts a US air base in Al Udeid, south-west of Doha, and is quite open about its relations with Israel. On the other, it does not hesitate to serve as a mouthpiece for bin Laden, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Hezbollah, the Houthis and the Bashar Assad regime.

The Qatari rulers have always loved to play the game of para­doxes, especially during the reign of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. They have done so to annoy Saudi Arabia.

They need to update their knowledge of the regional and international contexts. Nicolas Sarkozy is no longer in power in Europe and Obama has left the White House. Like Iran, Qatar benefited to a large extent from Obama’s Middle East policy or rather the lack of it.

The Americans eliminated bin Laden all right but wrongly estimated the dangers of the kind of terrorism practised by Sunni extremist groups born from the womb of the Muslim Brother­hood, as well as the type practised by Iranian-controlled sectarian militia in Syria and Iraq. The Qatari regime thought itself smart enough to buy the services of these terrorist organisations and use them to pressure or annoy those it perceives as enemies.

To survive in the current tough world reality, Qatar must perform a quick turnabout in its attitude and seize the opportunity offered by Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah’s mediation.

There are harsher measures than just being politically ostracised. By refusing to become a dependable, serious partner in the war on terror, Qatar risks finding itself formally accused of supporting terror. It will consequently find its enormous investments frozen across the world.

There ought to be no room for stubbornness when it comes to saving Qatar and the Qatari people. Playing with terror and with terrorists has always been a double-edged sword.

Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer.

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