Qatar is a small state, in terms of population and size. It is situated at a geo-strategic location near major petroleum deposits. Regardless of its size, Qatar holds an eminent position in the Middle East due to its robust economy, and petroleum reserves which have increased its clout across the region on various international and regional socio-political platforms.
The current episode of the political stirring began when several GCC countries imposed sanctions on Qatar. The major cause of these sanctions is considered to be the Islamic Summit spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, in which Qatar did not show any participatory inclination due to it being perceived as an anti-Iranian construct. On June 2017 the GCC countries abruptly broke off their diplomatic ties with Qatar. This cut off initiated by Saudi Arabia, and followed by Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, resulted in the imposition of a travel ban, trade ban, withdrawal of diplomatic attaches, and prohibition of the screening of Al-Jazeera.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have had strained relations, since the monarch Hamad bin Khalifa Al- Thani acquired the throne in 1995. He has unequivocally opposed the Saudi hegemonic role in the region. Historically, both countries had tense relations with each other; for example, during 1990s, Qatar wanted to strengthen its ties with other Arab and non-Arab Gulf countries, particularly Iran, much to the chagrin of Saudi bloc. Later on, due to the establishment of the Qatar based news network Al-Jazeera, relations between these two countries further deteriorated. Initial fallout happened when in 2002, Saudi Arabia cut off its diplomatic ties with Qatar by calling back its top diplomat. The resumption of diplomatic ties didn’t happen until the year 2008.
Similarly, during the Arab Spring, Qatar supported the Government of Muslim Brotherhood elected in Egypt, whereas Saudi Arabia declared the Muslim Brotherhood as abettors of terrorism in the region. This move of Qatar was not welcomed, as they were considered in defiance of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy.
At this juncture, Qatar is accused of being involved in sponsoring terrorism. Pro Saudi sources cite the heavy amount paid by Qatari authorities to an Iraqi militant group to secure the release of 26 Qatari nationals as an example. However, Qatar denied these allegations, arguing that it has been assisting the US in curbing terrorism, and is also playing its part in backing the military intervention against the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).
The current status of conflicts in the Middle East can be labelled as an ideological struggle in which pro-change and pro-status quo poles are playing dynamic roles.
The current status of conflicts in the Middle East can be labelled as an ideological struggle in which pro-change and pro-status quo poles are playing dynamic roles. This tug has resulted in influencing regional conflicts between Gulf countries due to synchronized rivalries; the intra-gulf rivalry with strong ideological undertones, and the geopolitical rivalry. In this sense, ideological rivalry demonstrates Saudi-Iran enmity in which sectarianism (Shia-Sunni) is instrumentalised, whereas geopolitical rivalry can be illustrated as the imposition of sanctions on Qatar by the GCC, further spiralling into strategic, political and economic vulnerabilities.
The on-going crisis still remains unresolved, as the four concerned countries have demanded a toning down of Qatar’s relations with Iran, along with shutting down Al-Jazeera and sealing the Turkish military base situated in Doha. They have also demanded that Qatar should cut its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, and organizations affiliated with terror, such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah. Qatar was given ten days to comply with these demands but the document did not mention what course of action will be adopted by the GCC countries in case Qatar does not comply.
Nevertheless, the ideal scenario for a solution of this crisis is through peaceful dialogue and negotiations. But then again, there are greater chances of failure of diplomacy as Qatar is not likely to accept these demands. States like Turkey can mediate to normalize their relations, but owing to Turkey’s limited role in the region, its part in this matter can be challenged by states such as Egypt, who do not wish to see Turkish influence in the region. Recently, Kuwait has also started efforts to defuse the tensions.
In short, the Qatar crisis is leading the Gulf into further complexities as the focus from imminent security challenges, such as regional proxies and terrorism is being diverted, which is an actual threat to the Middle East. The GCC states will continue their embargo on Qatar, and most probably Qatar shall be expelled from the GCC until it accommodates the stated 13 demands. Positivity can only be expected if the Gulf countries show a united front in matters of regional security and stability.