The Gulf Crisis might meet its end with the humiliation of Saudi Arabia and victory of Qatar.
Decolonization brought independence for many nations around the globe including the Arab nations. Though the question is still on its place whether the shackles were really broken or are they tied up in an imperialist coating. Because decolonization with such pace can be either a result of a miracle or a mega-strategy. But this is not our topic today. With decolonization, Middle Eastern nations started tug of war among themselves as freedom was new and no nation was in the position to restore the order they had once. With French and Britain gone, Arabs were starving to adopt a feasible system for them. Cutting the story short, in 1981 the Gulf States formed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It was established in Riyadh and the host led it for years. The members of this cooperation are Saudi Arabia led by the Al-Saud family, Qatar led by the Al-Thani family, UAE led by Al-Nahyans, Kuwait led by Al-Sabah, Oman led by Al-Saids, and Bahrain led by the Al-Khalifa family. Their language is Arabic, religion Islam and the cultural structure is pretty much the same. Things were going well until Qatar wanted to take the lead instead of sticking with the traditional makeup of the cooperation. She enhanced her trade with Iran and other nations which was not liked by the fellow GCC members, specifically the Saudi Arabians, leading to the blockade of Qatar in June 2017.
As the background is clear, we can now have an eye on the fault lines between Qatar and other GCC member states. Let’s further clarify the picture.
Why was GCC made?
The purpose of the GCC is to achieve unity among its members based on their common objectives and their similar political and cultural identities, which are rooted in Arab and Islamic cultures.
But this cooperation did not last long as in 1995 Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani announced that he was taking power from his father, becoming the Emir of Qatar. He had the designs to challenge unchallenged Saudi Arabia’s dominant role in the GCC. He started thawing cordial ties with the regional states and as well as with the nations that were not Arab like the USA. He then enhanced trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran who is the arch-rival state of Saudi Arabia to this day. Doha began sharing a massive gas reserve with Tehran. The new emir did not stop here. Qatar went on launching an international media network ‘Al Jazeera’. It mattered most as almost all the nations in the Middle East including the members of the GCC were ruled by either dictators or by monarchs and who does not know that both of them are unable to digest freedom of the press.
Riyadh had given up supporting the internationally known political Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Doha did not follow suit. Al Jazeera News Network gave voices and a platform to such political Islamist groups instead. Saudi Arabia did not like this approach either as she holds complete control of the Muslim sacred sites as Mecca or Mdinah and any other version of Islam contradicting Riyadh’s Wahabi/Sunni version could cost her the dominant and leading role she possesses in GCC and in the Islamic world. Soon after his holding of the power the emir of Qatar faced an attempt of his overthrow the very next year in 1996 but he survived. Analysts confirm that Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain supported this coup. This failed attempt made Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and his intentions stronger than before.
Arab Spring: Nail in the coffin
Since 1996 Doha emerged more powerful every next day. Even it started getting involved in the political affairs of the region with the dawn of the new millennium. Then came the well-known ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011. It was a wave of uprisings costing one of the mightiest rulers of the region to leave their seats like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who had ruled his country for three decades, since 1981, and Ben Ali of Tunisia who ruled over Tunisia for over twenty-three years. These uprisings were more lethal in Libya where the ruler who ruled Libyans for four decades was beaten, dragged, and then shot on the roads of Sirte, lies halfway between Tripoli (capital) and Benghazi. Yemen and Syria are still facing the ills of those revolts. A Small Island, Bahrain, a member state of GCC also faced revolts but somehow managed to get away with it. After weeks of protests, troops from Saudi Arabia rolled into the country, the Bahraini regime imposed martial law, and a government crackdown followed.
Where lies the fault line then?
Doha headquartered Al Jazeera News Network covered these uprisings to its most, causing embarrassment and a threat to the other monarchs of the GCC. Saudi Arabia including other members of the cooperation did not like such naked reporting of the event.
Democratic elections were held in Egypt in 2012 where Mohamed Morsi became its president. He ruled for a year and three days then was ousted by another military dictator Abdel Fateh Al Sisi. His ousting was followed by uprisings again in Egypt and Al Jazeera covered that too. Egypt is a very good friend of Saudi Arabia and this made Al-Sauds more nervous about their authoritarian rule. Qatar did not stop here. Sisi’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood caused the influential members of this political Islamist group to flee Egypt and Qatar welcomed them too. This caused cutting off diplomatic ties with Doha in 2014 by the other member states of the GCC. When it did not hurt Qatar a lot, then on June the 5th, 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar. Whereas Oman and Kuwait did not do so. Air, Land, and Sea routes were closed off. Trade with Saudi Arabia was also banned. Even the Qatari citizens were kicked off from the blockading countries causing separation of many inter-married families. The blockading states had a list of demands, some of the major demands are as follows;
· Qatar downgrade diplomatic ties with Iran
· Shut down Al Jazeera Media Network
· Cut ties with the terrorist groups (as Saudis claim that Doha sponsors terrorist groups in the region like the Al-Nusra Front in Syria.)
Qatar nullified all the claims and stated that such demands were against her sovereignty. She soon balanced the damage by expanding her trade with Iran and Turkey and by developing its local industries at home.
Are the cracks covering up?
The answer seems ‘yes’, as, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain were reluctant to send their teams to Qatar for FIFA World Cup 2022, but a year ago they dropped the idea and now they will be sending their teams to Doha despite the continuous reporting of Jamal Khashoggi's murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by Al Jazeera.
A souring fact explained by a Qatari researcher and academic Abdulaziz al Horr snatched more attention of the international community toward the present Gulf crisis. Last year on the second anniversary of the Qatar blockade while talking to Al Jazeera he responded on the claim that Doha enjoys relations with Tehran as, “There are ten thousand Iranian companies in UAE, the trade between UAE and Iran is $11 billion, there are more than 700,000 Iranian people living in UAE. The trade between Qatar and Iran is $240 million, only there are around 14,000 [to] 15,000 Iranian people living in Qatar, there are less than forty Iranian companies in Qatar. Who enjoys the relations with Iran? 95% of the trade in the Gulf State with Iran is with UAE,,, not with Qatar. What hypocrisy is this?” (14:05) In response, he got the answer that economic ties with Tehran are not a matter but the political ones.
With recent noticeable progress and steps taken by the Al-Sauds like the chances of ending the Qatar blockade, it seems that the Gulf Crisis might meet its end with Saudi humiliation and Qatari victory. But Saudi humiliation might not be a humiliation from the geostrategic angle as winning Doha before Biden’s entry in the Whitehouse might create chances of showering blessings for Riyadh, its allies, and Tel Aviv___ a visible advantage over Tehran.
Note: Pictures’ courtesy does not belong to the writer.