The Middle East is divided. The Middle East has always been quite a complex region with tribal differences having manifested itself in a modern 21st century way. But the goal is the same: a pursuit of power. The Qatar crisis is the latest move that sees a power play between regional powers at the expense of the economy and citizens of the states involved. Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Libya, Maldives and Saudi Arabia all cut diplomatic relations with the small Gulf state with the backing of Senegal, Jordan, Komor Islands and Mauritania. Just five days ago Eritrea joined this group showing how this is no longer just a Middle Eastern issue but an African one too. This is a large contingent of countries who may face opposition from Iran principally with Turkey and Kuwait being very sympathetic to Qatar.
The American Dilemma
The American President’s USP is getting ‘deals done’ when he went to the Middle East and did not want to jeopardise his trip by risking relations with many wealthy Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, relations have only recently been normalised with the Egyptians as Obama did not want to send an anti-democratic message by allowing the military coup to go unnoticed. The UAE and Saudi Arabia also donated $100m to Ivanka Trump’s proposed Women’s Entrepreneur Fund. This shows that these states have anticipated the self-interest of the American President will forgo statesmanship and diplomacy. Furthermore, Trump’s trip would be viewed as a waste of time if all his work is unravelled by traditional political issues. undone This puts him in a weak position, unable to dictate to other states what to do. This is especially the case considering the presence of a USA military base 10,000 troops strong based on Qatari soil. Furthermore, Trump with his business-minded ways would not want to lose the $45bn the Qataris pledged to invest just last year.
The Complications of Other Conflicts
Iran and Saudi Arabia find themselves on opposing sides in a Middle Eastern conflict once again with the ongoing military struggles in Yemen and Syria but now a political and economic one with Qatar. The problem with Middle Eastern diplomacy is that many countries are opposing each other and working together simultaneously depending on the conflict.
Take for example the fight against Daesh (ISIS). Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey are in coalition with all the states who sought to put conditions on Qatar. What will happen to the Islamic Military Alliance now in the fight against Daesh? The same can be asked of Yemen as both Qatar and Kuwait find themselves on the same side as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain, what is to happen now?
The Muslim Brotherhood Motive
The anti-Qatar states claim that the emirate supports terrorism and demands the Muslim Brotherhood, and its Palestinian wing Hamas, be expelled and declared a terrorist organisation. This is a rather peculiar ploy as singling out Qatar as the sponsor of terrorism seems to make little sense. Tunisia has the biggest representation in Daesh, why not sanction them? Saudi Arabia is second in terms of membership with over 2,500 fighters as of 2016 and a past mired in radical Muslim-associated terrorist attacks. On top of this, in 2015, Saudi Arabia backed the creation of The Army of Conquest, primarily made up of both the al-Qaeda affiliate (the al-Nusra Front) and the ideologically similar Ahrar al-Sham. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia is the chief architect in sanctioning Qatar for sponsoring terrorism. The hypocrisy is unparalleled. Furthermore, on the issue of recognising Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood as extremists, Russia, Turkey, China and Switzerland all recognised and had some contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. Is the anti-Qatar group going to sanction all these nations too? Consider Turkey whose AKP party publicly endorsed the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian elections and following the coup; this is further than Qatar ever went in terms of state support. The inconsistencies of the anti-Qatar arguments based on terrorism are overwhelming and has caused some to claim Egypt only declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation to consolidate power from the democratically elected government. There is no clearer illustration as to how this is not a fight against terrorism but a power struggle.
Saudi Arabia is clearly motivated by the fact that Qatar maintains relations with Iran. Iran was the first country to fly food packages to Qatar as well as let Qatar Airways use Iranian airspace after the anti-Qatar coalition banned them. Countless claims have been made by Iran supporters that “Tehran controls five Arab capitals,” being Damascus, Sana’a, Baghdad and Beirut. Could this be the 5th? Could the Saudis drive Qatar into Iranian hands? But also what of Turkey? 53% of Turkish citizens have an unfavourable view when it comes to supporting Saudi Arabia. Ankara and Riyadh have long seen themselves as alternative leaders to Western interventions and could turn the balance of power within the Middle East. Additionally, Iran sees the PKK as a terrorist organisation which would appease the ruling AKP, and they have already worked together in anti-terror operations in Iraq. There is also a large Turkish population in Iran thanks to the ethnic Azerbaijanis in the northwestern regions of the nation. This shows there is clearly scope for improving relations, but whether the Qatar crisis is enough of a catalyst remains to be seen.