By Adeeb Chowdhury
The roots of the so-titled Qatar Crisis wind sneakily back to another, much older, much grander conflict—a rivalry that is simultaneously archaic and worryingly relevant today. It has plagued the Arab world for centuries on end. It has existed since the early generations of Islamic history and rages to this day, manifested in countless crises and acts of sectarian violence. In terms of length and constant intensity, it makes the Cold War rivalry seem like nothing more than a drunken bar brawl.
Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf nations stridently insist that the reason they cut ties with Qatar is because the latter nation had been aiding terrorism and fueling instability in the region. But that’s only an attempt to toss a blanket (and a rather worn one at that) over the genuine motivations behind this crisis—this is nothing more than another puppet war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two leaders of the Sunni and Shia worlds, respectively.
What’s Happened So Far
On the fateful day of June 5, several Arab nations—including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt—declared their intention to slash all diplomatic ties to Qatar and expel Qatari citizens from their midst, as well as shut down trade routes to the nation and impose an air & naval blockade. This coalition was later joined by others, such as Yemen, Senegal, and Libya. The event that triggered this crisis seems to be a news story from Qatari state media in which the Qatari Emir (head of state) praises Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah, the latter being a terror group and the former being a known terrorist facilitator. (There have been claims that this news story was another fruit of Russian state-sponsored cybercrime.)
Iran was quick to come to Qatar’s aid, condemning the Gulf nations and sending a plane stocked with food to its ally as support for the shortages Qataris expected to suffer as a result of the trade blockades. Turkey has pitched in as well, consolidating military personnel at an army base in Qatar.
The anti-Qatar coalition made the claim, among others, that Qatar had taken part in hosting and aiding terror groups in the region and had fueled instability in the region. The state-run Qatar Charity had been facing accusations for years about their role in providing support for Al-Qaeda and affiliated militants; Osama Bin Laden himself had once designated the organization as his preferred conduit for financial aid. The Charity, according to reports from Sudan, had been constructing homes and establishing a lifeline for rebel terrorists implicated in acts of genocide. The organization had also come under fire from Russia for their alleged role in funding Chechen rebel groups aligned with Al-Qaeda.
Qatar has gained notoriety for the permissive environment it has hosted for militants and terrorists within its borders. The Taliban has famously established its own office in Doha. Hamas leader Khaled Meshal resides in Qatar, though he has made attempts to normalize relations between Hamas and Saudi Arabia (as opposed to the military wing of Hamas, Qassam Brigades, which is eyeing Iran as an ally in the region). In 2007, following a failed peace plan for the Yemeni civil war, members of the Houthi rebel group were given exile in Qatar. The failure of the aforementioned peace plan, additionally, was blamed largely on Doha—the plan had been crafted by Qatari mediators, and was accused of legitimizing Houthi rebels and allowing them too prominent a role in the peacemaking process.
Another fault is the role of Qatari state-run media. Al-Jazeera has consistently faced criticism for alleged biases in reporting—particularly its positive depiction of the Muslim Brotherhood during the Arab Spring, recognized widely as a terror group. Other accusations include claims that Al-Jazeera provided equipment and logistical support to MB figures whilst reporting. Other Qatari media avenues, such as Arabi21, Raasd, and more, have been singled out by Gulf nations in their criticism.
Puppets and Proxies
The crisis in Qatar, at the heart of it all, is a puppet show. It is only another manifestation of the Sunnia-Shia divide—or a Saudi-Iran divide. Old enmities have resurfaced in Qatar, and the middleman is paying for it.
The greatest part of the accusations was the claim that Qatar had been far too friendly with Iran, the latter being considered a hostile force in the Gulf region. Iran and Qatar share the North Dome Field, the largest field in the world for producing liquefied natural gas; in 2014, Qatar offered Iran assistance in developing the field. Qatar also hosts the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, a corporation listed on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN), maintained by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, for its role in transporting prohibited materials and contraband. The two nations also hold joint military exercises; in 2010, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps was allowed to port warships in Doha and, rather outrageously, inspect Qatari missile bases. Qatar also refrained from criticizing Iran for its alleged interference in the Bahraini Shia uprising of 2011, a move condemned by the rest of the Gulf nations.
Qatar’s role in the Sunni-Shia divide was that of a mediator. A link between two empires. A negotiator, although not always the best, in the quest of bridging this toxic gap. For the fatal crime of fraternizing with the enemy, Qatar had borne the brunt of the Sunni world’s wrath.
The geopolitical power dynamics involved also threaten to lead to instability. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, arguably the leader of the Qatari opposition, is also the strongman of the Arab world, and others were quick to flock under its wing. The Republic of Yemen, currently a site of brutal civil war of historic proportions, receives military and humanitarian support from an alliance of nations including Saudi Arabia, USA, UK, France—and, previously, Qatar. As Yemen shifts away from Qatar due to its loyalty to head honcho Saudi, it loses a key player in solving the civil war. Qatar had previously been vital in reconstruction and damage control as it served on Yemeni grounds. This crisis also may ramp up the Sunni-Shia proxy war in the Syrian civil war, just as the latter seemed to be finally wrapping up.
The diplomatic failure here is permitting an old enmity to achieve new levels, as it succeeds in isolating a strong ally and potentially a vital link between the Sunni-Shia nations. This move jeopardizes the march for peace and resolution in the Arab world—a goal that already seems laughably distant and largely unattainable—by furthering this noxious divide and allowing it to scar nations that had aimed to help bring the two world together.
About the Author
President and Senior Editor of the YIA
Adeeb is a student of William Carey Academy, currently in Class 10. He has served as a published writer for a range of magazines, blogs, and newspapers,such as The Daily Sun, The Daily Star, World Orphan Center, Bangladesh Study Forum, Women Chapter, Mukto-Mona (Free Mind), Shuddhashar Magazine, and as a former senior editor of The Bangladeshi Humanist. His interests include debating and Model United Nations (MUN), and is the Vice President and Co-Founder of the WCA-MUN Club as well as the Secretary-General and Event Director of the upcoming WCAMUN Conference.