Future of Egypt, the primary reason behind Qatar diplomatic crisis

Future of Egypt, the primary reason behind Qatar diplomatic crisis

The ongoing Qatar diplomatic crisis began when in early June when Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt abruptly cut off diplomatic relations, withdrew ambassadors, imposed trade and travel bans against Qatar, insisting that Doha should comply with a 13-point ultimatum (later reduced to six broad principles, but all points were reinstated). Shortly thereafter, several other countries have joined the quartet and cut or downgraded diplomatic ties with Qatar, including Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Jordan, Maldives, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and exiled Hadi-led Yemeni government. The offensive move surprised everyone, from politicians to committed followers of political events in the Middle East, but very few analysts emphasized a key motive for crisis, let alone its long-term implications.

Official demands given by the anti-Qatar quartet are: (1) curb diplomatic ties with Iran, close its diplomatic missions there, expel members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard from Qatar, cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran, along with commerce that doesn't comply with US and international sanctions, (2) sever all ties to "terrorist" organizations, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIL, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah, and formally declare those entities as terrorist groups, (3) shut down Al Jazeera and its affiliate stations, (4) shut down Qatari funded news outlets, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al Araby Al Jadeed and Middle East Eye, (5) terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and their joint military cooperation, (6) stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organizations that have been designated as terrorists by the quartet and the USA, (7) hand over "terrorist" figures and wanted individuals from the quartet, freeze their assets and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances, (8) end interference in sovereign countries' internal affairs, stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from the quartet, revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries' laws, (9) stop all contacts with the political opposition in four countries, hand over all files detailing Qatar's prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups, (10) pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other financial losses caused by Qatar's policies in recent years, (11) align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, in line with a Saudi agreement from 2014, (12) agree to all the demands within 10 days, and (13) consent to ten years' monitoring.

Four weeks later, diplomats from the four nations said they were no longer insisting Qatar comply with the demands and instead wanted it to commit to six broad principles: (1) commitment to combat extremism and terrorism in all its forms and to prevent their financing or the provision of safe havens, (2) prohibiting all acts of incitement and all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred and violence, (3) full commitment to Riyadh Agreement and the supplementary agreement, with its executive mechanism for 2014 within the framework of the Gulf Cooperation Council for Arab States, (4) commitment to all the outcomes of the Arab-American summit held in Riyadh in May 2017, (5) to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of States and from supporting illegal entities, and (6) the responsibility of all states of international community to confront all forms of extremism and terrorism as a threat to international peace and security.

Various analysts have offered explanations of the main motive, emphasizing family rivalries, a dispute over natural gas, Qatar's rapprochement with Iran or terrorist funding, but none of them seem very convincing as a key reason. Indeed, there's a long-running rivalry between Thani and Saud families, but no matter how personal, it is highly unlikely that private matters would provoke such large-scale crisis which caused a multi-billion economic losses and endangered international alliances. Some analysts pointed out a Qatar's refusal to sell natural gas to neighbors at a discount price, calling on a relatively old (and lifted) moratorium on the further development of the North Dome gas field. Still, Saudi Arabia does not import natural gas and has been able to achieve important energy security of supply due to the fact that they only rely on themselves to meet their natural gas consumption. The UAE is a significant consumer and 25% of demand is imported from Qatar, but they do not take the lead in the quartet.

There's no doubt about Saudi Arabia being a leading player in the quartet: the UAE is far weaker, Bahrain is de facto Saudi-occupied, Egypt is a poor country, as well as above mentioned African governments who are only looking for a financial benefit. This Saudi game is much similar to the established strategy of the United States because it relies upon gathering allies and client states to project their own interests under pretense of the "international community". Alleged Qatar's developing stronger ties with Iran, accentuated in the first point of the ultimatum, can be easily dismissed as irrelevant from energy, economic and military perspective. Two countries do share World's largest natural gas field in the Persian Gulf, but Qatari production relies on foreign Western companies and there's no any mutual development. If the quartet is really concerned about growing trade ties with Iran, then the United Arab Emirates would be at the top on the hit list, because the UAE is Iran's largest import partner as well as Iran is their largest export partner. This trade is mostly based on reexports and its characterized by economic mutual dependence despite serious political differences, similar to Iran-Turkey relations.

Demands that members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard must be expelled from Qatar actually implies that Doha is somehow becoming a military ally of Iran, which is absurd considering that Qatar is hosting Al Udeid Air Base, the largest American base in the Middle East. If Qatar truly hosts Iranian military and intelligence personnel, it would be expected from the USA to react first, but that's not the case. Requests to stop Qatar's joint military cooperation with Iran and Turkey are merely symbolic, as both countries are non-Arab and the quartet is trying to play the "Arab patriotism" card. However, confronting attitudes toward Iran, Turkey and Qatar reveals that Saudi Arabia is actually far from either Islamic, Sunni or Arab unity, all recalled repeatedly by their officials for many years. Furthermore, Saudi demands seriously undermined even American strategy for making stable GCC block capable of challenging Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf.

The main motive for crisis is obviously worth even of distorting relations with the United States, the biggest political, economic and military ally of Saudi Arabia. The answer to the tricky puzzle actually lies in Qatar's supporting, hosting, funding and promoting alleged terrorist and extremist individuals, groups and organizations, the most elaborated demand in both the 13-point ultimatum (2-4 & 6-9) and six principles (1-2 & 4-6). We're not speaking about ISIL and Al Qaeda who received more funds from Saudi individuals then Qatari, or Hezbollah who is their major foe in Lebanon in Syria, we are speaking about the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

Back in 2011 and 2012, following the Egyptian revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the parliamentary election had been held and resulted with victory for the Muslim Brotherhood affiliates led by Mohamed Morsi. The second strongest political option was Salafist block, heirs of ultra-conservative ideology much closer to Saudi Wahhabism then Neo-Salafist modernists like the MB. In the long run, there is no chance that Salafists can overwhelm the MB, well-established movement with affluent tradition and a large popular support. Major powers in the Middle East are perfectly aware of this, and despite Morsi's hostile stance toward Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Iran welcomed his victory and tried to develop closer ties. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia was irritated, financed another coup and embraced new leader el-Sisi. This move itself surprised many observers who believed Saudis will celebrate conservative changes at the expense of previous secular leadership, unaware that the MB actually represents a hateful competition to their own proteges. Saudis are therefore dedicated to destroy the MB by all means, both at home and abroad. In Egypt, their party is banned and hundreds of leading members have been executed. And regarding overseas, this bring us back to Qatar who continued to back the MB and serve as their main refuge.

For many decades, Saudi Arabia has promoted its ideology and funded various extremists, and later used them as a tool for rebellion in countries where they have desired regime change. Using tested experience from the Afghan-Soviet war, their radicals proven to be very dangerous in Syria and elsewhere, but today they're largely vanished. Conducted recruitment from Arab lower class and poor areas such as Afghanistan, Sahel, Balkans and Caucasus doesn't seem to be a flourishing source, but Egypt looks like a perfect alternative: geographically close, Arabic-speaking, populous, poor and economically dependent. Even today, Egypt much relies on Saudi financial support, however, Saudis are having a deeper long-term plan. They see el-Sisi as a useful fool and they'll continue to back him as long as he is erasing the MB. For this reason, they're trying to accelerate its extinction even aboard (i.e. Qatar). After this job is done, Saudi support for el-Sisi will suddenly stop and all popular support for him and his liberal party will rapidly decay. Elections will pave the secure way for stable and well-funded Salafists, their victory will meet "democratic" standards in the World's eyes, and then comes a nightmare. Consequences of institutionalized Saudi ideology in a country with nearly 100 million people are beyond imagination. Still, it's far from being a serious concern for the USA, in fact, Trump has ironically praised Saudi anti-Qatar moves as "measure against funding terrorism". Neither Russia seems to be interested about this dangerous development, Moscow sees the MB through a prism of a Syrian case and designates whole organization as "terrorist". In meanwhile, mass media is much more preoccupied with dirty secrets in Arab royal courts, and even independent analysts are discussing about amount of imported beef and vegetables, or still struggling with LNG and GTL differences, rather then focusing on the real issue.

Ivan Kesic

Ivan Kesić is a Croatia-based freelance contributor and independent geopolitical, military and socio-economic writer. As an open-source data analyst he contributed to various regional outlets and collaborated with several government agencies in previous years. He occasionally writes articles and helps to maintain a neutral point of view in other authors' articles.