More than one year ago, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic ties with Qatar over Doha’s alleged support for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The decision came a few days after US President Donald Trumps’ meeting with the Muslim leaders in Riyadh where Trump accused Doha’s Emir of supporting terrorism in the region.
Although the United States wants to take part a advantageous role in Qatar diplomatic crisis, but the United States has so far failed to resolve the crisis.
As a result, the United States has invited members of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council to attend the Camp David Summit this autumn to get a solution to the crisis.
To answer the question of whether the Qatari crisis in Camp David will be resolved, we should look at the cause of the crisis and the reasons for continuing it.
At the beginning of the crisis, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) issued a list with 13 demands to Qatar to end the crisis. In response, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, dismissed the “unrealistic” and “not actionable” demands saying they aimed to abolish Qatar’s sovereignty. (https://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/demands-saudi-allies-unrealistic-1428484)
However, Doha rejected the demands and declared ‘reciprocity’ to the conditions of Arab states. Doha also enhanced its military and economic relations with Iran and Turkey, and inked an agreement on combating terrorism and its financing with Washington.
The conflict between Qatar and neighboring states dated back to 1995 when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani managed to defeat his father in a coup and took power.
In 2013, when Sheikh Hamad passed power to his son Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, many falsely believed that the new emir would adopt policies in line with other Arab countries. Qatar’s support for the Moslem Brotherhood made the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain recall their ambassadors from Doha. In the same year, under Saudi pressure, the Qatari emir signed a secret agreement that his country would refrain from acts contradictory to Arab states national interests. However, the secret news was out the following year and the world realized that Qatar wouldn’t change its policy and would keep distance from the Saudis and its allies.
Emirates role in Qatar’s crisis
All recent attempts to pressure Qatar are pursued and directed by the United Arab Emirates, and the Saudis only play a supportive role. Emiratis view Qatar as their only rival in regional investments.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which enjoys the support of Riyadh and Washington viewed Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia as an opportunity to get closer to the US and restrain Qatar’s unilateral policy. The UAE believes that the pressure will bring Qatar to its knees and keep Doha away from Iran, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
In reality, the UAE has an underlying agenda in all this. They hope the US will transfer its military base from Qatar to the UAE, and if their plan goes through the country will try to claim ownership over the three Iranian islands, the Great Tunb, the Little Tunb and the Abu Musa.
Saudi Arabia’s role
One of the reasons behind the Qatar crisis is the competition between the two royal families in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Qatar holds the reputation as a very successful state and is considered a great “Dar al-Hikmah” or House of Wisdom in the region and for many Arab intellectuals. The country has a very strong educational infrastructure, which gives the country considerable influence. On the other hand, the Saudis, who are lagging behind, envy Qatar’s global influence.
Qatar’s block by the House of Saud has given the Saudi royal family some clout to appear as peace keeping force among the Muslim community.
Annually, Riyadh exports 420 million tons of oil versus 200 million for Doha. The volume of gas production on top of that indicates that Qatar is ahead of Saudi Arabia in energy production.
This enormous wealth has led to two military conflicts between Qatar and Saudi Arabia since the Cold War ended, and major conflicts have taken place in oil field regions.
A new wave of Salafi and the Muslim Brotherhood influence has emerged in Saudi Arabia, which the Saudis fear. Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood has also been dangerous for Saudis.
Ever since the 1970s, the US and Qatar have held a strong political and economic relations which has barely been affected by regional and domestic developments.
Given the US diplomatic positions and the Pentagon’s actions since the Qatari crisis erupted, Washington can only say that it intends to continue to work closely with all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council in the war on terror. Nonetheless, Washington’s mixed messages on Qatar’s crisis have illustrated the complex nature of the overall situation. (http://nationalinterest.org/feature/why-washington-cant-quit-qatar-21627)
The White House intends to nudge Riyadh and Doha toward reconciliation because the solidarity of the Arab countries is crucial for the United States to confront Iran in the Middle East, as Washington fears Iran’s close relations with Qatar.
Trump’s relations with the Persian Gulf Arab countries includes a great deal of passion for selling American weapons against its assumed enemy, Iran, as it offers huge profit to Washington. Thus, the White House has to mediate a resolution to differences between these Arab countries. On the other hand, the failure to adopt unified positions by the Arab states in the interests of the US in the region, and Qatar’s relations with Iran, have created the powerful impetus for Washington to establish an agreement and end the conflict between Qatar and Saudi/UAE-led bloc of states.
Qatar will endeavor to reduce the recent tensions. The Qatari leaders know all too well that changing their core regional policy under the pressure of other states will result in losing their political legitimacy. If the Qataris bow down to Saudi wishes, they inevitably will have to face changes in their political administration.
However, Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region, with Saudi Arabia at the top, have no desire to end the Qatar crisis, as Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jabir has recently stressed and the issue with Doha was not addressed at the Arab Summit. The Qatari Emir, who had previously announced plans to go to Saudi Arabia personally to attend the summit, had a change of heart and did not attend the meeting.
Foreign policy in each country is affected by benefits, and benefits determine a state’s identity. The fulfillment of Saudi conditions means that Qatar would have to fundamentally change its foreign policy, and this is not acceptable to Doha now.
It is anticipated that the Qatar crisis will continue on to some extent even as Doha may moderate its policies in some areas.
*Javad Heirannia, Ph.D student of International Relations in Iran, Visiting Fellow of the Persian Gulf Department in the Center for Middle East Studies in Iran