Comment Writer Natalia Carter conducts a survey to determine whether sex education in the UK is satisfactoryWritten by Natalia Carter on 23rd March 2018
Qatar: the Undermined Actor in Arab Relations
Comment Writer Tom Moran highlights the role of Qatar in Arab relations
Relations between Qatar and the other Gulf states have flared up again in the last week. With the UAE’s violation of Qatari airspace, the possible Qatari escorting of an Emirati passenger plane and the detaining of a Qatari royal family member being the latest issues to transpire.
There is an often-overlooked division among the Arab nations. It seems common place in contemporary journalism and academia to discuss the Middle East in terms of a Cold War with the divide being Shias/Sunni or Iranian/Arab. Don’t get me wrong, this is a driving force of geopolitics in the wider Middle East, but the region is not a bipolar one: that it is to say, there are more than two belligerents.
Yes, the Arab states and Israel are facing off against Iran and its allies (including Hezbollah and Bashir al-Assad), but the Saudi led bloc has another enemy at hand: the Qataris.
“It seems common place in contemporary journalism and academia to discuss the Middle East in terms of a Cold War with the divide being Shias/Sunni or Iranian/Arab
When, last summer, the Gulf states united to denounce Qatar for its funding of terrorism, it was not just about shifting the blame. Qatar poses an existential threat to the Gulf states’ establishment.
Whilst one of the smaller states, with an even smaller population, it is the antithesis of oil rich. From the 1970s onwards, Qatar was able to accumulate a huge amount of wealth through oil and with the industry being state owned, the government had cash to splash. What better way to spend this money, than buying political influence.
Qatar supports al-Ikhwān al-Muslimūn or as we know them the Muslim Brotherhood – if this is ringing bells, it’s because they were a major player in Egypt in the Arab Spring in 2011 and the removal of President Mubarak. They’re not just in Egypt, being found in most of the Sunni nations.
This is what makes Qatar a threat to the other Gulf states. The Muslim Brotherhood is a potential opposition to the elites of Kuwait, Bahrain, the Emirates or Saudi Arabia. They saw what happened in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in overthrowing Mubarak, and so the Brotherhood are a potential threat that only exacerbates ongoing concerns related to the Gulf states stability, since the Arab Spring.
What is just as concerning for them is the Qatari news network Al-Jazeera who often challenge the orthodox conservative narrative of the Gulf establishment. Al-Jazeera has for a long time been very critical of the governments and often acts as a mouth piece for Qatari interests; this is as clear in recent developments as any other, with all of Al-Jazeera’s reports on Emirati allegations, surrounding the escorting of the passenger, being very sceptical. It is no surprise therefore that Saudi Arabia and its allies have such a problem with them.
All these issues contributed to tensions coming to a head last summer when demands were made of Qatar around Al Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood. Since then, there has a been a stalemate between the states with the occasional heating up.
“There is a lack of understanding that this is a smaller struggle between the members of the Sunni bloc in the Middle East because of the threat that Qatar is seen to pose
Fundamentally, we should see these points of tension in the bigger picture of these troubled relations. The possibility of Qatari jets having escorted an Emirati passenger plane is part of this. If it’s true, it can be seen as a response to Emirati violation of Qatari airspace on January 3rd. If it’s not, the Emirati claim is likely a response to Qatar filing a complaint to the UN security council over a potential breach of airspace. The same can be said for the potential detaining of a member of the Qatari royal family – he’s not even an important one having been exiled after his role in the 1972 coup attempt.
These actions are all tit for tat and part of the ongoing struggle between the two sides. There is a lack of understanding that this is a smaller struggle between the members of the Sunni bloc in the Middle East because of the threat that Qatar is seen to pose. So, when we consider the Middle Eastern Cold War, we need to remember the gulf in Gulf relations.