Egypt and Gulf countries break with Qatar: ‘Arab NATO’ bursts before its birth

By Alberto Negri

Perhaps a new era has begun in the Gulf: after having exported instability over the whole region by nurturing a backward and radical vision of Islam, the absolute monarchies of oil are at each other’s throat.

CENTCOM, the American headquarters in the Middle East, is based in Qatar; and at the same time the US are the main guardians and arms suppliers of Saudi Arabia, which they help alongside British forces in the Yemeni war against the Houthi Shia rebels. The diplomatic break between Doha and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain (Yemen joining up too), spoils the very American and Western security system in the Gulf – the strategic heart of the Middle East and home to 40% of the world’s petrol reserves. That’s why this clash within the Sunni world of sheiks directly affects us through all its economical and financial implications, and above all through the oil monarchies’ support to Islamic and Jihadi radical movements.

To sum it up, the “Arab NATO” (a proposal put forward during American president Donald Trump’s travel to Saudi Arabia, when the US and Riyadh signed a record arms deal worth 110 billion dollars) bursts even before its birth.

It was actually Trump’s travel itself that made the (not so latent) tensions between the Gulf Cooperation Council countries explode. Inflamed statements appeared in Qatari media (attributed to the Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani) against the Riyadh-dictated “anti-Iran line”, and against the most strong stance against Muslim Brotherhood and the Hamas Palestinian movement – organisations backed and financed by Doha.

As we recall, it was the Saudis that with their generous funding, along with the Emirates, endorsed the 2013 coup of General Sisi in Egypt which removed President Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government from power. There was a rift in diplomatic relations between Doha, Riyadh and the other Gulf Countries already back then, and it went on for a few months.

Long-brewed tensions were accompanied by Saudi accusations against Qatari support of Shia minorities in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – which turned into an even more sensitive issue with the Yemeni war against the Teheran-backed Houthi Shia rebels; a conflict in which Riyadh is bogged down and unable to win, even with US support.

There’s more. Qatar, who shares with Teheran the exploitation of important offshore gas fields, is accused, together with Oman, of harbouring too much sympathy for the Islamic republic. We are actually talking about neighbourly relations that in some ways collide with Doha’s support to the Jihadi movements against Assad, a long-time ally of the Iranian Ayatollahs.

Rivalry between Qatar and the Saudis has ancient roots. Qatar features the same Saudi wahhabism as its State religion; but it also supports “revolutionary” Salafi organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood that always stood against the House of Saud, wanting to overturn it. This is the deep meaning of the clash with Riyadh. It is not by any chance that Qatar’s national mosque is named after Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, and that in the previous days the Saudi sheiks disavowed the blood ties between the Qatari royal family and the Arab theologian that was born in the Najd, in the modern Saudi Arabia.

Alongside political, religious and ideological issues, personal matters played into the hostility between Riyadh and Doha. The Sauds’ hostilities against the Al-Thani dates back to the coup when the father of the current emir, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, seized power in 1995. At that time, Riyadh even asked Egyptian president Mubarak to intervene with his troops in order to unseat the usurper, but the Egyptian rais took a step back in the last minute.

One thing is certain. The defeat of the Sunni radicals and of ISIS in Syria is forcing the Gulf countries to a rearrangement: the fastest were the Saudis who, after years of providing support to extremist groups, sided with the US position and in favour of Israel in exchange for inflamed statements by Washington against Iran – the true opponent of Riyadh in the quest for hegemony in the Gulf. Qatar is guilty of many things, such as raising tensions (as Saudi and Jihadists also have done for decades, after all) and of providing support to radical imams; but above all it has, in the eyes of Riyadh, a “flaw” in avoiding confrontation with the Islamic Republic – seen by Doha as an element that can balance Saudi Power in the region.

The Gulf monarchies have begun to tear each other to pieces after having transferred the tensions of the Sunni world to the Middle East and abroad for years (to keep them out of their own house, mostly) by financing the most radical movements: from a certain point of view, this could be good news, but it could also be the beginning of an unprecedented and unforeseeable instability in the Gulf within countries that compensate the lack of democracy with oil and colossal investments, that also kept the leaders of the western world on a short leash.

This article was first published in Italian on Il Sole 24 ore, on 5 June, 2017.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kom News.