Tehran (GPA) – Are the western powers and the gulf monarchies looking to sacrifice Qatar to construct a fictitious connection between salafi jihadist organizations and Iran?
While everyone is rightfully paying close attention to the current diplomatic fallout between Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE on one side against an isolated Qatar on the other, there are some major questions raised by these events. The primary question being, why are the Saudis throwing their partners in exporting Wahhabism under the bus?
There are a few theories behind the sudden and unexpected isolation of Qatar, it’s likely motivated by a combination of several things. First, let’s tackle some recent history of Qatar that makes other gulf monarchs, especially the Saudis, nervous about their own positions.
While Qatar may have a lot in common with Saudi Arabia, there is one thing they don’t share: the security (real or perceived) of the ruling regime’s power. Much like the way Saudi Arabia fears the Muslim brotherhood, not due to ideological differences but as a threat from the bottom up, they have seen Qatari monarchy undergo a similar change, but from the top down.
This first started in 1995 with a palace coup where the ruling emir of Qatar was deposed by his own son Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. This event was the first of it’s kind in the gulf region and sent shockwaves through Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of which were concerned this could set a bad precedent for ambitious members of their own royal families.
The Saudis and UAE actually responded to this event by plotting with Qatari tribal leaders to kill Hamad and support a potentially violent takeover by a new regime (the UAE even had attack aircraft on standby). Fast forward to today, and another coup – from forces both internal and external – is still a possibility.
Despite the fact that Hamad’s father is dead, and has passed on the leadership role to his son, the current Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani there is still potential for further royal plotting and regional destabilization. In fact it was speculated that a coup similar to the one in 1995 was attempted earlier this year.
Clearly these exploits by fellow Wahhabi royals is just as much a cause for concern for the Saudis as, say, the Muslim Brotherhood since the House of Saud’s top priority is protecting their power. Beyond this there’s also another possible motivation between the gulf fallout that’s expressed in the Saudis public criticisms of Qatar.
There are two major accusations by the Saudis to explain the current behavior towards their Qatari neighbors. First is the excuse that Qatar funds groups like the Islamic State and al Qaeda. This is obviously true, but it’s not anything Saudi Arabia and the UAE aren’t also guilty of themselves. The second explanation given is the much more dangerous one: Qatar maintains these connections to jihadists but also cooperates with Iran.
While these two things are seemingly separate from each other, this sets the stage for some very dangerous machinations, especially when you look at US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Riyadh. The Saudi accusations may be just the newest addition to Trump’s highly praised address to the Saudis about Iran being the top state sponsor of terrorism.
Granted, it is well known that Qatar does cooperate with Iran, but this is due to the fact that they share one of the world’s largest natural gas fields. This doesn’t however mean the two nations have any common ground on supporting Sunni extremist groups like al-Qaeda or IS; who Iran is currently fighting in places like Syria and Iraq.
What makes all this seem like an attempt by the GCC to sacrifice Qatar for the appearance of fighting “terrorism connected to Iran” is the way US leaders – mainly Trump – are responding. In the past day, Trump has begun praising the shifting of blame for terrorism on Qatar as a result of his trip to Riyadh and further bolstering his baseless accusations against Iran.
In response to the GCC fallout, Trump tweeted earlier today that it is “”So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
This makes it seem like the plan to throw Qatar under the bus was formulated in Riyadh, especially when you consider Egypt was also a party in the discussions and one of the first countries to denounce Qatar. Trump even said the Saudis warned him in Riyadh of the connections between Qatar and “radical ideology.”
Combining the rhetoric from Washington with the accusations of Riyadh and you can see the connection that the GCC is trying to draw: Qatar works with extremists and Iran. Now, in the usual nonchalant manner that’s to be expected, the Saudi and US leaders and media are casually inferring a connection between jihadists and Iran with Qatar as the linchpin. This narrative is obviously fake but must be countered immediately so that the casual western observers don’t assume this mythical connection is true in a possible lead up to a new Middle East conflict.
Also published on Medium.