A minuscule mass of land tucked to the Arabian Peninsula in Persian Gulf, Qatar, is presently in the centre of diplomatic storm in Middle East. The giant neighbor and patron for long Saudi Arabia and allies UAE, Bahrain and Egypt unilaterally severed ties with it on the pretext of a speech by Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
A nation which had traditionally relied on fishing and pearl trading before the discovery of large reserves of oil & gas, in a matter of few decades transformed into a wealthy state with highest per capita income in the world. Oil & gas rich unrestrained exchequer offered the government of Qatar to run as a welfare state with large spending on social programs which includes housing, health, education and pensions.
Qatar has time and again displayed ambitions to leverage its oil & gas might to seize far outgrown share of space in the world affairs than its tiny land size of less than 12000 km2. It become first nation in the football enthusiastic Arab to win a bid to host the 2022 world cup. Qatar Airways is one of the most efficient Air Service providers in the region.
Aljazeera, one of world largest news organisations with pan Arab presence is funded by Qatari Government. The news network has had a history of controversies. ‘For its supporter Al jazeera is like a breeze amidst enclosed space in Arab region where media usually worked as a mouth piece for rulers. While for others Including Saudi Arabia and its allies the broadcast is offering way too much space to extremist and Qatar, the sponsor, to influence and shape opinion across Arab’. Hence, detractors want its wings be clipped.
Going was smooth till Qatar’s foreign policy moved in tow of Saudi Arab. Recently Qatar participated in Saudi Arabia’s led intervention in Yemen. Both were in coalition which actively took part in Iraq and Libya Conflicts. In Syria, Both of these countries along with Turkey actively supported the rebels with strategic, military and financial means against the Bashar Al Asad regime. However of late, while still being part of Saudi Lead Sunni faction Qatar carves out its own policy and in conflict zone of Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya started supporting factions of its liking.
Yet, the seed of enmity was sown as early as in 1995, when Hamad Al Thani, the father of present Emir Thamim bin Hamad Al Thani deposed his father Khalifa Bin Hamad Al Thani to become the emperor. Given Khalifa Al Thani Cordial relationship with Saudi Arabia, the Arabian giant orchestrated a futile attempt to topple the Hamad Al Thani.
It is widely believed that Hamad Al Thani transformed Qatar into a world economic powerhouse in order to bring his country out of Saudi’s shadow. He handed over power to his son and present emir Thamim bin Hamad Al Thani in June 2013,
Qatar ambitious foreign policy which increasingly begins to clash with the interest of Saudi Arabia: During Arab Spring Qatar supported the uprising contrary to Saudi’s position of opposing it. Qatar’s financial support to Palestine is a contentious issue, alleged by its rivals to be going into hands of Hamas, a politico-military organistaion which U.S. declared a terrorist outfit. In the aftermath of Israel-Lebanon war Qatar heavily finance in the renovation of business and building of Lebanon.
Qatar support of Egypt’s Muslim brotherhood also irks Saudi faction. Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist group which, in the wake of Arab spring that rooted out the decades of autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak, had seized the power through democratic means and seated Mohammad Morsi as president but was soon toppled by a military coup with the help of Saudi Arabia and under the leadership of general Abd El-Fattah El-Sisi, who is still controlling the helm of Affair in Egypt and taking on brotherhood in every possible capacity. This explains Egypt’s presence among countries that recently severe ties with Qatar.
Nevertheless, it is Qatar’s somewhat cordial link with Iran that enraged Saudi Arabia the Most. Qatar shares its major gas reserves with Iran so it’s to some extent constrained to have good equations with it to maintain its economic development.
As report suggest, the Emir’s speech which sparked the current blocked specifically described Palestinian Hamas, Egypt’s Muslim brotherhood, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and most significantly Iran in good terms. Qatar, however, clarified that the Qatar government News Agency which published the report was hacked.
Saudi Arabia, Embolden by U.S. president Donand Trump’s speech in Riyadh recently denouncing Iran as a nation harboring terrorism and zealous applaud for Saudi’s role in war against terrorism, along with its partners went ahead to curb flight of Qatar, ostensibly for financing fanatics but mainly, to inflict it for pursuing an independent foreign policy on top of its growing proximity with Iran.
However, few other commentators refused to interpret the above Iran angle in the blockade. They explained that Oman also has good relationship with Iran yet it has not affected its bond with Saudi Arabia. According to them with the depleting oil reserves and Saudi Arabia is bound to lose it hegemony that it enjoyed through OPEC, an organsation of major oil exporting countries. Therefore, they interpret the blockade as a last resort to somehow retain gas rich Qatar under Saudi’s control.
U.S. president Donald trump’s series of tweet further fuelled the air, one of which he wrote: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar.”
Ironically, Qatar host U.S. largest base in the region where more than 10,000 soldiers are stationed. It’s also the base of its central command responsible for operations in the region. Considering the possible implication, Pentagon, U.S military head quarter hurriedly come to rescue and gone to the extent of praising Qatar for hosting U.S. military at Al Udeid Air base and for its enduring commitment to regional security.
In the beginning U.S. Government kept sending ambiguous signal. In a latest tweet Trump alleged Qatar of having “involved in funding terrorism in a very high level”. While U.S. secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, called for ease in blockade.
Qatar denies the charges of funding extremist. The Foreign Ministry of Qatar maintained the ban undermined Qatar’s sovereignty.
The blocked has put Qatar in tremendous humanitarian Crisis as its 99% food is met by import. Reports suggest around 80% of these foods used to come via roadways through Saudi Arabia. As largest, one forth of total population of approx 2.6 million inhabitants of Qatar are Indians, it is a matter of considerable concern for New Delhi too.
At the moment, Iran, Morocco and Turkey have been supplying foods and other every day essentials to Qatar. With no party seems ready to compromise at the moment, common people are bound to suffer in the Clash of gulf titans.
Shams Khan is a journalist based in Patna