Qatar show­down dead­line now Wed­nes­day

Saudi Ara­bia’s Crown Prince has sup­port of Don­ald Trump in his block­ade of Qatar

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

The dead­line that Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies set for Qatar to sub­mit to their “non­nego­tiable” de­mands has just post­poned from Mon­day to Wed­nes­day. Since Qatar has al­ready made it plain that it will not com­ply — it says the de­mands are “rem­i­nis­cent of the ex­treme and puni­tive con­duct of ‘bully’ states that have his­tor­i­cally re­sulted in war” — the de­lay is a sure sign that the bul­lies don’t know what to do next.

They pre­sum­ably thought that the Qataris would buckle un­der their threat, and didn’t bother to work out their next move if it didn’t. So what hap­pens now? Does Saudi Ara­bia in­vade Qatar? It could eas­ily do so if it wanted to: Qatar has one-tenth of Saudi Ara­bia’s pop­u­la­tion, an un­de­fended land bor­der, and tiny armed forces.

Saudi Ara­bia’s Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man has the sup­port of Don­ald Trump in his block­ade of Qatar, and he could prob­a­bly talk Trump into ac­cept­ing an invasion too. More­over, this is the man who com­mit­ted Saudi Ara­bian forces to the vi­cious civil war in Ye­men on the mere (and largely un­founded) sus­pi­cion that Iran is help­ing the rebels mil­i­tar­ily.

Bin Sal­man’s terms for end­ing the block­ade of Qatar were so harsh that it looks like he wanted them to be re­jected. The 13 de­mands in­cluded com­pletely shut­ting down the Qatar-based al-Jazeera me­dia group; whose satel­lite-based tele­vi­sion net­work is the least cen­sored and most trusted news or­ga­ni­za­tion in the Arab world.

Qatar was to break all con­tact with the Mus­lim Brother­hood, a largely non-vi­o­lent and pro-demo­cratic Is­lamic move­ment that was a lead­ing force in the “Arab Spring” of 201011. It was to end all sup­port for rad­i­cal Is­lamist rebel groups in Syria, and above all for the or­ga­ni­za­tion that was called the Nusra Front un­til late last year. (It then changed its name in an at­tempt to hide its ties to al-Qaeda.)

Fi­nally, Qatar was to end prac­ti­cally all trade and diplo­matic con­tact with Iran, even though its in­come comes al­most en­tirely from the huge gas field it shares with Iran. Oh, and it must pay com­pen­sa­tion for the nui­sance it has caused, and ac­cept reg­u­lar mon­i­tor­ing of its com­pli­ance with these terms for the next ten years.

The four coun­tries op­er­at­ing the block­ade (Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates, Bahradi and Egypt — three ab­so­lute monar­chies and one mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship) are re­ally just try­ing to sup­press demo­cratic ideas in the re­gion. The ac­cu­sa­tion that Qatar is “sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism” would be more con­vinc­ing if Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates had not been do­ing ex­actly the same thing.

They all helped the Nusra Front with money, and ig­nored its ties with al-Qaeda be­cause it was fight­ing the Shia-dom­i­nated regime of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad. Now they have all stopped do­ing that, but Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE are con­demn­ing Qatar for do­ing it: the pot is call­ing the ket­tle black. But the “sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism” charge does get the Amer­i­cans (or at least one illinformed Amer­i­can called Don­ald Trump) on board.

Qatar will pay a price for re­ject­ing the Saudi de­mands. Al­most all its food is im­ported, and in fu­ture it will all have to come in by sea or by air. But Qatar is rich enough to pay that price. In the end Saudi Ara­bia will al­most cer­tainly not in­vade. The 10,000 Amer­i­can troops based in Qatar give it no po­lit­i­cal protection (Wash­ing­ton will al­ways put Saudi Ara­bia first), but the mere hun­dred-odd Turk­ish troops who are based there would help to de­fend the coun­try if Qatar chose to re­sist.

“We don’t need per­mis­sion from any­one to es­tab­lish mil­i­tary bases among part­ners,” said Tur­key’s Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan. “We en­dorse and ap­pre­ci­ate Qatar’s stand to­wards the 13 de­mands.” Saudi Ara­bia won’t risk even a small war with Tur­key, so it will re­strict it­self to us­ing its fi­nan­cial clout to stop other coun­tries from trad­ing with Qatar.

As Omar Ghobash, the UAE’s am­bas­sador to Russia, told the Guardian news­pa­per last week: “One pos­si­bil­ity would be to im­pose con­di­tions on our own trad­ing part­ners and say that if you want to work with us then you have got to make a com­mer­cial choice (to boy­cott Qatar).”

But that’s not likely to work ei­ther. Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man has started an­other fight he can’t fin­ish.

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