Qatar Quagmire

Qatar Quagmire

On October 20, 2018, Posted by , In Information Reports,Middle East, With Comments Off on Qatar Quagmire

Written by Steven Tibbitts

Power grabs, political strife, proxy wars, and pride have all contributed to the most recent crisis to hit the historically unstable Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) (Adams 2018; Stratfor 2017; Hassan 2018). This time it features the so-called “Quartet” of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt facing off against Qatar, and to an extent Turkey and Iran (The Economist 2018; Al-Jazeera 2017; Haaretz and Reuters 2018). The ongoing instability from the conflict, which was almost fought with armies instead of PR companies, creates friction between US allies and prevents a united front against Iran (Stratfor 2017; Yousef et al. 2018, Pfeffer 2018; Emmons 2018).

In June 2017, the Quartet cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed all air, sea, and land routes to the island (Al-Jazeera 2017; The Economist 2018). Suddenly Qatar, one of the richest Gulf nations with a native population of only 300,000, found itself in a blockade designed to reign in its independent foreign policy (Adams 2018; Hassan 2018; Stratfor 2017; Financial Times 2018). The Quartet cited Qatar’s ongoing ties with Iran (with which it shares its main gas field), support for Islamist groups, and funding of media outlets, namely Al-Jazeera, as reasons for the blockade (Financial Times 2018; Al-Jazeera 2017).

The reality behind the goals of the blockade is more nuanced, especially in light of allegations that the UAE orchestrated the hack on Qatar that provoked the crisis (DeYoung and Nakashima 2017). Qatar does have a history of sponsoring terrorism (including al-Qaeda affiliated groups in the Syrian conflict) and Al-Jazeera is oftentimes a mouthpiece for radical Islamist groups; however, Saudi Arabia and the UAE also have ties to extremism (Wilson 2017; Dearden 2016; Henderson 2016; Shane 2016). Qatar is also not the only GCC member close to Iran—Kuwait and Oman maintain some levels of connection (Stratfor 2017).

It appears that the Quartet, led by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), is irked by Qatar’s support for Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood that threaten the stability of the monarchies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE (Haaretz and Reuters 2018; Hassan 2018). In places like Libya and Syria, Qatar and the Quartet back rival proxy groups; additionally, Qatari news outlets like Al-Jazeera lambast Saudi Arabia and the other GCC members (Hassan 2018; Lucas 2017). In addition, mixed signals from the US, including President Trump, may have played a role in the debacle (Pfeffer 2018; Emmons 2018).

The rise of young rulers such as MbS or his UAE counterpart Mohammad bin Zayed, as well as Qatar’s young ruler Hamid al-Thani, has led to a regional power struggle based on ego as much as realpolitik (Pfeffer 2018; Lucas 2017). This is particularly the case with MbS; the Saudi Crown Prince has been focused on implementing his vision of change through both the faltering implementation of the new economic program Saudi 2030 and the war in Yemen (Riedel 2018; Pfeffer 2018; Lucas 2017). Part of MbS’s style is a requirement for absolute loyalty—since coming to power, he has launched broad crackdowns on activists, imprisoned high-ranking Saudi officials, and promoted regional bilateralism rather than wide-encompassing GCC activities (Stratfor 2017; Pfeffer 2018; Lucas 2017).

So far, the impacts of the blockade have been mild. Qatar’s economy is faring relatively well despite some negative impacts, and it has established stronger ties with Iran and Turkey (Financial Times 2018; Adams 2018; The Economist 2018; Mogielnicki 2018; Al-Jazeera 2018; Bukhari 2018). The Quartet suffers from a lack of international support (especially in the wake of the probable murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi) (Adams 2018; Pfeffer 2018).

The US does not want this inter-GCC tension to continue. This fight between allies is made even more awkward by the presence of the largest US base in the Middle East in Qatar (Haaretz and Reuters 2018; The Economist 2018). Additionally, in a time when Iran is maneuvering to secure territory and influence, the US needs a united front against Iran. However, the blockade threatens to permanently sever the binds between the GCC countries and fragment US attempts to use the GCC to counter Iranian expansionism (Yousef et al. 2018).


Works Cited


Adams, Tim. 2018. “From Qatar’s blockade, a bold, unexpected new vision is emerging.” Guardian, May 6. Accessed October 12, 2018.

Al-Jazeera. 2017. “Qatar-Gulf crisis: Your questions answered.” Al-Jazeera, December 5. Accessed October 12, 2018.

Al-Jazeera. 2018. “Turkey and Qatar: Behind the strategic alliance.” Al-Jazeera, August 6. Accessed October 19, 2018.

Bukhari, Irfan. 2018. “Erdogan victory to turn Qatar-Turkey ties stronger: Envoy.” The Peninsula, June 26. Accessed October 19, 2018.

Dearden, Lizzie. 2016. “Saudi Arabia and Gulf states ‘support Islamic extremism in Germany,’ intelligence report finds.” Independent, December 14. Accessed October 12, 2018.

DeYoung, Karen and Ellen Nakashima. 2017. “UAE orchestrated hacking of Qatari government sites, sparking regional upheaval, according to U.S. intelligence officials.” Washington Post, July 16. Accessed July 18, 2017.

Emmons, Alex. 2018. “Saudi Arabia Planned to Invade Qatar Last Summer. Rex Tillerson’s Efforts to Stop It May Have Cost Him His Job.” Intercept, August 1. Accessed October 19, 2018.

Financial Times. 2018. “The continuing blockade of Qatar makes no sense.” Financial Times, April 19. Accessed October 10, 2018.

Haaretz and Reuters. 2018. “Explained The Real Reason Behind the UAE-Qatar Crisis and How It Benefits Iran at the Expense of the U.S.” Haaretz, Feburary 6. Accessed October 10, 2018.

Hassan, Hassan. 2018. “Qatar Won the Saudi Blockade.” Foreign Policy, June 4. Accessed October 10, 2018.

Henderson, Simon. 2016. “What We Know About Saudi Arabia’s Role in 9/11.” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, July 18. Accessed July 19, 2016.

Indian Express. 2018. “Is Saudi Arabia planning to spend $750 million to turn Qatar into an Island?” Indian Express, September 3. Accessed October 12, 2018.

Lucas, Russell E. 2017. “How a few young leaders are shaking up foreign policy in the Gulf Cooperation Council.” Washington Post, August 11. Accessed October 3, 2018.

Mogielnicki, Robert. 2018. “The new economics of Qatar-Turkey relations.” Middle East Institute, August 30. Accessed October 19, 2018.

Pfeffer, Anshel. 2018. “Khashoggi and the Myth of the ‘Liberal’ Middle East Crown Princes.” Haaretz, October 18. Accessed October 18, 2018.

Riedel, Bruce. 2018. “Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan in trouble.” Al-Monitor, September 7. Accessed September 8, 2018.

Shane, Scott. 2016. “Saudis and Extremism: ‘Both the Arsonists and the Firefighters’.” New York Times, August 25. Accessed August 27, 2016.

Stratfor. 2017. “The Gulf Cooperation Council Will Never Be the Same.” Stratfor, December 6. Accessed September 30, 2018.

The Economist. 2018. “Cold war in the heat.” The Economist, June 21. Accessed October 10, 2018.

Wilson, Tom. 2017. “Does Qatar Support Extremism? Yes. And So Does Saudi Arabia.” New York Times, August 10. Accessed October 10, 2018.

Yousef, Tarik M., Nader Kabbani, Noha Aboueldahab, Larbi Sadiki, Ranj Alaaldin, Galip Dalay, Ali Fathollah-Nejad, and Adel Abdel Ghafar. 2018. “What Brookings experts are saying about the one-year anniversary of the Gulf crisis.” Brookings Institute, June 4. Accessed October 12, 2018.






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