Saudi Arabia is dealing with the ‘test’ of isolating Qatar as the first installment of its effort to restructure of the Gulf household in a manner that ensures the reformulation of its own identity as leader of the Sunni Muslim world
by Hamza al Khansa – al Akhbar
Six years ago, when the Arab region was reeling from the shock of Syrian developments, the late Saudi king ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abdelaziz urged the Gulf states’ leaders at their 32nd summit to ‘move beyond the phase of cooperation to the phase of union in a single entity that achieves what is good and preempts what is evil,’ and warned them against the challenges that lie ahead.
At the time, the late king linked the need for the GCC to move towards the phase of ‘union’ to the fact that the Gulf states were part of the Arab nation. Their ‘duty’ therefore obliges them to rush to ‘help our brothers in everything that would realize their hopes, prevent the shedding of their blood, and spare them the consequences of events and conflicts and the dangers of [external] interventions.’
The ‘stirrings of revolution’ that were unfolding in Syria influenced by the Arab Spring’s wave were the main motive for the king’s position at the time, and the primary concern that led the Gulf leaders to nod in agreement to this proposal, despite the mounds of disagreements, disputes and differences that prevented it from being realized.
In the six years after King ‘Abdullah’s death, during which King Salman come to power and the circumstances were being prepared so as to ensure that Deputy Crown-Prince Mohammad bin Salman would accede to the throne, events in the region, specifically in Syria and Yemen, unfolded in a manner that has prevented the many elements required for heading towards the phase of unity from taking shape.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia was trying to achieve union between the Gulf states by bringing them together around the basic idea of demonizing Iran as an existential threat, and banishing the Muslim Brotherhood current since it is a main source of competition for Saudi Arabia’s religious leadership.
The banner of hostility towards Iran, which Saudi Arabia has raised to justify its war on Yemen and its support for the armed opposition factions in Syria, has provided an important opportunity to test the success of the notion of ‘union’. Via the gateway of military alliances, Saudi Arabia sought to lead a broad ‘Islamic coalition’ in Yemen that later shrunk into an ‘Arab coalition.’ But the results were no better than those achieved by the Peninsula Shield forces– the GCC’s military arm– when they failed to prevent Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 before these forces turned into ‘intervention forces’ whose main job was to suppress the protestors in Bahrain. In fact, even in economic terms, the GCC has so far failed to adopt a single currency or establish a common market.
The reasons why the GCC has failed to achieve its aims, let alone turn into a union similar to the EU, stem purely from its own nature, despite the fact that foreign factors have sometimes been invoked to justify this failure and rally ranks around religious [Sunni] sentiments. Along these same lines, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash declared in a Tweet after the dispute with Qatar began that this sharp crisis was because of Iran, and that it poses a great threat to the GCC, making Qatar’s ‘change of behavior’ a precondition for regaining confidence in it. The Saudi and Emirati media then took it upon themselves to explain what is meant by ‘Qatar changing’, the main element of which is severing relations with Iran and ending Doha’s assumption of the role of Muslim Brotherhood sponsor.
Around a year ago in his famous interview with The Atlantic, former U.S. president Barack Obama maintained that ‘competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran’ was responsible for the chaos in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. He urged the two sides to ‘seek effective ways to establish good neighborly relations and a sort of lukewarm peace.’ Of course, the current crisis would not have broken out under Obama. By contrast, current U.S. President Donald Trump has openly backed the punitive measures against Qatar, deeming them ‘the beginning of the end of terrorism,’ and explaining them as part of the region’s leaders’ commitment to the promises they made to him in Riyadh to fight terrorism.
Saudi Arabia is dealing with the ‘test’ of isolating Qatar as the first installment of its effort to restructure of the Gulf household in a manner that ensures the reformulation of its own identity as ‘leader of the Sunni Muslim word.’ This is the appropriate ideological framework in which to place the new conflict with Qatar and all the political and economic tools used in it – especially since it followed immediately after Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and after he inaugurated with King Salman, the I’tidal [Moderation] ‘Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology’ in the heart of the capital Riyadh.
This is the angle from which to understand the Saudi and Emirati concentration on terrorism and extremism in their escalation against Qatar. It is also from this perspective that we can understand the shift in the Saudi media and the media that turns in their orbit towards accusing Qatar of backing the Ansarullah [Houthis] in Yemen, Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, as well as certain armed factions in Syria. The aim, on the one hand, is to portray all these parties as one and the same, and to portray the parties that support them (Qatar and Iran) as terrorist and extremist on the other.
Basing itself on the U.S.’s administration acknowledgments of its standing at the forefront of the states combatting terrorism in the region, Saudi Arabia is acting on the assumption that there can be no place for Qatar in the GCC before it withdraws within its borders and is stripped of all its cards.
Otherwise, the scenario of Saudi military intervention in Qatar that was tried in February 1996, may be repeated, backed by the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, but this time with guarantees that it will succeed.