Saudi Arabia vs Qatar, why diplomatic confusion was inevitable.
At the instigation of Saudi Arabia, several countries on Monday broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of destabilizing the Persian Gulf region by supporting jihadist groups and being too accommodating with Iran. Why ? Why now ? How should the world react?
Saudi Arabia vs Qatar: Falling the mistrust of Westerners.
Coming from Saudi Arabia, the accusation of supporting Islamist terrorism makes people smile. Indeed, Riyadh has for decades continued to work for the proselytic spread of Wahhabism, one of the forms of this political Islam that inevitably engenders Jihadism, Wahhabism, Also claims Qatar.
But ideological proximity does not do everything. The priority of the ruling Saudi family is to remain in power. “Bogged down”, it has long been disappointing in the eyes of the jihadist groups it has nevertheless largely contributed to create. They do not deprive themselves of denouncing its “drifts” and “softness”, which explains why it perceives them as a threat as soon as it no longer manages to control them. It is an internal threat, since it encourages protest within its own country. External threat, since they question the Saudi influence on Sunni populations.
At the same time, displaying its will to fight jihadism offers another advantage to Riyadh: lull the mistrust of western countries, while buying their complacency, and present the Wahhabi networks it runs as a lesser evil compared to the Islamic state or al Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia vs Qatar: “Qatar, a Sunni rival”.
Moreover, Qatar has exactly the same strategy, posing as a mediator even as it diffuses its totalitarian and anti-Western ideology, through its “development aid” actions in the French suburbs, as well as by its Al-Jazeera channel. A soft power tool whose real effectiveness is probably one of the causes of the envious hostility of its neighbors.
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In addition, while Qatar may not have directly funded jihadist groups, it has at least closed its eyes complacently to its own nationals who did so. This is also true from Riyadh…
Doha’s criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood is part of the same logic of rivalry within Sunni extremism. The Brotherhood representing a particularly serious threat in the long run of which western countries underestimate. Whether it favors cultural influence and political entrenchment rather than the crude violence of attacks, it is a remedy to “ease tensions between communities” by advancing Islamization with “reasonable accommodations. It does not make it less dangerous, on the contrary.
Aware of its fragility alongside its too powerful Saudi neighbor, Qatar has no doubt seen the Brothers as a network capable of counterbalancing the influence of Riyadh, and has judged it in its interest to be able to present itself to the Westerners as a useful intermediary to negotiate with the Brotherhood.
Saudi Arabia vs Qatar: Gas close to Iran.
It was also this willingness to play the unavoidable intermediaries that led Qatar to be much more measured towards Iran than many other Sunni countries. Not forgetting, of course, that some of its precious gas deposits are located in the immediate vicinity of Iranian territorial waters… Let us recall that Qatar owes its gas richness more then oil, which brings it closer to Russia and the Iran more than other members of OPEC.
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Conversely, Saudi Arabia sees Iran as its main enemy. A new episode of hostility between the Arabs and the Persians. Opposition is stronger as the Saudis know that the West has much more in common, culturally, with the Shiite traditions and their symbolic and poetic interpretations of the Koran than with the literalist reading of the Wahhabism which sees it as a legal code. A common pride of antiquity. While Saudi Arabia meticulously tries to make disappear its origins, “It is estimated that since the end of the Second World War, Saudi Arabia has destroyed 98% of the historical remains of more than a thousand years on its soil, including Muslim historical sites”. A youth that dreams of freedom, while the Sunni youth is radicalized. From the Saudi point of view, a rapprochement between the West and Iran is a real risk, likely to favor the emergence of the famous “Islam of Enlightenment” whose hypothesis terrifies Riyadh, and must therefore be prevented.
In the meantime Daech backs down.
In addition, the Islamic state is retreating in both Syria and Iraq. Let us bet that some are already preparing for defeat as a territorial state, and thus the return of clandestine networks and some of its resources. But the will to fight the Shiites will most likely be a major criterion of legitimacy to take control of this future “caliphate of the shadow”. In January 2017, the Islamic state blamed Al-Qaeda for its “gentleness” towards the Shiites, to the point that Ayman Al Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda, felt compelled to publicly deny the accusation.
In the light of the above, one can only be surprised that Riyadh did not act earlier against Doha. There were precedents, such as the temporary withdrawal of ambassadors in 2014 following Al-Jazeera’s support to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (the Muslim Brotherhood already), but out of all proportion to what we are witnessing.
It was because the American green light was missing. In 1995, the United States forced the Saudis to recognize the seizure of Sheikh Hamad, which they were hostile to. Barack Obama has tried to gradually clean up relations between Washington and Tehran until the July 2015 treaty. Unfortunately, despite his initial desire to move closer to Tehran’s allied Russia, Donald Trump has never hidden his coldness To Iran. Added to this are the contracts recently signed with the Saudis, whose spin-offs in terms of economy, employment and therefore domestic policy can not leave him insensitive.
Henceforth, the declarations in favor of Iran attributed last week to the Emir of Qatar (denied since) arrived at a timely point to justify a long-planned sidelining, and allowing to brandish again The standard of the struggle against the Shiites.
The west must distance itself.
It remains to be wondered what the reaction of west should be. It is too early to predict the outcome of the current crisis. Qatar’s submission to Saudi Arabia and its affiliates? Palace Revolution in Doha? Intervention of the Muslim Brotherhood in favor of their allies, in particular to preserve the formidable tool of influence that is Al Jazeera?
In any case, the west would be better off from the quarrel between Saudi Arabia vs Qatar, and more generally to distance itself from these two countries. Another massively contributing to the dissemination of the Islamist ideology, which is today the main threat to the West.
the EU should, above all, approach Iran, without naivety but without procrastination. Since even Germany now seems to be distancing itself from the Americans and their renewed alliance with Wahhabism, let us seize this opportunity to lead Europe towards a more balanced vision of the Middle East and an awareness of the Remarkable opportunities for Iranian civil society.