by Paul Gadalla
Rai Insights Contributor
Beirut: ‘What happens now?’ is the ultimate question concerning Qatar. The odd man out, it is now blockaded by the other GCC countries and Egypt. But in the end, like many things in the Middle East, it will most likely end with backdoor deals that will lead to some sort of peace deal instead of an all out war.
If Saudi Arabia, the leader in the GCC, wanted to truly reign in Qatar it would have gone through a full scale invasion like it had done in Bahrain in 2011 or its current invasion in Yemen. Not to mention with American and Turkish troops being stationed in Qatar, any real invasion or military action would set off an international conflict. And besides a couple of tweets from the American president claiming that this could help stem terrorism, the US has barely entered the fray, most likely due its troop presence in the country and avoid instability on the energy markets.
So far, and surprisingly, Qatar has faired well under the blockade most of the GCC and Egypt has placed on it. It continues to export its energy sources as normal, and thanks to ties with Turkey and Iran, there have been no major food shortages like what has happened in Yemen. No other troops from the GCC or Egypt have invaded yet either, nor have they sealed off its energy exports. Natural gas continues to flow the UAE.
Qatar has a recent history of charting its own course. Over the past decade Qatar has became famed for some of its diplomatic feats such as hammering out a unity government between Lebanon’s pro and anti Iran factions. It has hosted Hamas officials, made overtures to Iran while also supporting members in the Syrian Opposition and even having secret dealings with Israel. It also held an international meeting over ousting Qaddafi during the Arab Spring. Al-Jazeera, the country’s main media outlet, leads the region in reporting. But it’s Qatar’s courting of Iran and Islamists that have drawn the ire of the GCC and Egypt.
One can view this current fiasco as an escalation from 2014 when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE forced Qatar to sign an agreement (the details of which have never been fully disclosed) that stated that it most tone down its rhetoric and distance itself from organizations like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Although Qatar capitulated, the agreement mainly stayed on paper with Qatar hardly changing any of its stances. Qatar has continued to maintain its own political stances and has even looked on how to outflank the current blockade by making overtures to Turkey for food and supplies. And to the agitation of the rest of the GCC, Qatar has restored full diplomatic ties with Iran. Iran has opened its airspace for Qatari use as well. Al-Jazeera has went on a media blitz, reporting on how Qatar’s banks are still solvent and that this fall will witness the opening of Hamad Port, the largest port in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia and co have issued 13 demands that verge on the ridiculous. Besides having to close Al-Jazeera, Qatar would have to pay reparations for loss of life and the closure of the Turkish military base. Already the date for the ultimatum expired on July 3 although Egypt is still demanding all the points in the ultimatum must be met for their to be a reconciliation.
Thanks to Qatar’s regional Islamic partners, Iran and Turkey, it can trudge through the crisis but the situation cannot last forever. Qatar will never accept to meet such absurd demands and be cowed in by Saudi Arabia. It’s political and energy independence has made it a regional player, something it will not give up.
How will it end? In an interview with the Carnegie Middle East Center, Hussein Ibish of the Arab Gulf States Center rightly puts it: “How far, how long, and what price?” Qatar cannot live under a blockade forever and will most likely have to strike a compromise with its neighbors and rethink its dealings with Iran. Imports from Turkey and Iran cannot last forever. But once again it will be settled like many other problems in the Middle East, through back door dealings. Most likely Qatar will have to scale back its funding of Islamists and Al Jazeera will have to avoid sensitive topics that could upset the UAE and Saudi Arabia. As Jihad El Zein put it in a recent interview, “what is going on is an act of taming Qatar.” For now, negotiations remain deadlocked so until a mediator such as Oman can intervene.
*Paul Gadalla is a New York native communication specialist and aspiring political analyst based in Beirut, Lebanon