Has Qatar over­played its hand?

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Henry Sre­brnik Henry Sre­brnik is a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

The lit­tle Per­sian Gulf state of Qatar, with just over 300,000 cit­i­zens, has been de­scribed as punch­ing above its weight.

It has sought to par­lay the fi­nan­cial mus­cle it de­rives from its enor­mous oil and nat­u­ral gas re­serves into a di­plo­matic sta­tus oth­er­wise un­de­served by its size.

But has it now be­come col­lat­eral dam­age in the es­ca­lat­ing and com­plex con­flicts in the Mid­dle East?

Cit­ing Qatar’s sup­port of “ter­ror­ists,” three of the emi­rate’s part­ners in the six-na­tion Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil (GCC), Bahrain, Saudi Ara­bia, and the United Arab Emi­rates, broke off di­plo­matic re­la­tions on June 5. So did Egypt, Ye­men and the Mal­dives.

They im­posed a land and air block­ade that left the small na­tion with only a sin­gle ac­cess route for es­sen­tial sup­plies.

On June 22, they is­sued a 13-point list of de­mands as a pre­req­ui­site to lift­ing the sanc­tions, in­clud­ing the shut­down of the news net­work Al Jazeera, which they ac­cuse of be­ing a plat­form for ex­trem­ists and an agent of in­ter­fer­ence in their af­fairs. Qatar re­jected all of the de­mands.

Since the be­gin­ning of the Arab Spring, Qatar has sup­ported anti-gov­ern­ment move­ments, both sec­u­lar and Is­lamist, with di­plo­matic sup­port, money, and some­times weapons. It is among the most ac­tive back­ers of Is­lamist fight­ers in Syria and Libya

In par­tic­u­lar, the cur­rent is­sue re­volves around Qatari sup­port for the Mus­lim Brother­hood and its Pales­tinian branch in Gaza, Ha­mas.

Qataris were ec­static when Mo­hamed Morsi was elected pres­i­dent of Egypt in 2012 – some­thing the man who over­threw him, Ab­del Fat­tah al-Sisi, has not for­got­ten.

To Saudi Ara­bia, though, the up­ris­ings im­per­iled both the re­gional order and, po­ten­tially, its own rule; pop­ulist Is­lamist move­ments had long chal­lenged it at home.

Qatar’s am­bas­sador to Gaza, Mo­hammed al-Emadi, has pledged con­tin­ued sup­port to the coastal en­clave. “De­spite the cri­sis in Qatar, we will con­tinue to sup­port you,” he promised Gazans on June 9.

Over the past five years, Qatar has al­ready pledged $1.4 bil­lion worth of re­con­struc­tion money, which has been go­ing to hos­pi­tals, hous­ing units, and up­grad­ing roads to hous­ing projects.

Qatar’s For­eign Min­is­ter Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man al-Thani main­tains that Ha­mas is a le­git­i­mate re­sis­tance move­ment. “We do not sup­port Ha­mas, we sup­port the Pales­tinian peo­ple,” he as­serted dur­ing an in­ter­view June 10.

Saudi Ara­bia’s For­eign Min­is­ter Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir three days ear­lier had in­sisted that Qatar end its sup­port for Ha­mas and the Mus­lim Brother­hood be­fore ties with other Gulf Arab states could be re­stored.

Jubeir added that Qatar was un­der­min­ing the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity and Egypt in its sup­port of Ha­mas and the Mus­lim Brother­hood.

Qatar has also main­tained cor­dial re­la­tions with its Ira­nian neigh­bour, partly be­cause the two coun­tries share a gi­ant off­shore gas field in the Per­sian Gulf.

The Saudis now view Iran as an existential threat and have stated that they want to block Iran be­fore it can gain yet more strength in the Mid­dle East. They con­sider the emi­rate too friendly with Iran.

So, from their per­spec­tive, it is time for Qatar to choose where it stands with re­gard to both Iran and the Is­lamists.

Wash­ing­ton has an in­ter­est in see­ing this is­sue re­solved, be­cause more than 11,000 Amer­i­can and coali­tion forces are sta­tioned at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

It is the largest U.S. mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity in the Mid­dle East, from which U.S.-led coali­tion air­craft stage sor­ties against the Is­lamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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