by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 6, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1438)
It is unwise to adopt a maximalist position when one is not completely sure of its outcome. This is what Bani Saud are finding out to their great embarrassment over Qatar. On June 23, the Najdi Bedouin kingdom, now virtually run by the ignorant but supremely arrogant Mohammed bin Salman, issued a list of 13 demands to Qatar. These included ending support for terrorism in the Muslim East, severing all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, shutting down al-Jazeera TV channel, closing down the Turkish military base and expelling all Turkish military personnel, as well as downgrading links with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Led by Bani Saud, a number of their Arabian allies and others — United Arab Emirates, tiny Bahrain, Egypt, the sinking islands of Maldives and such other “mighty powers” as Comoros, Djibouti, and Senegal (basket cases all, and dependent on Saudi bakhshish) — cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5 as demanded by their Saudi masters. Qatar was supposed to have been left isolated. The Saudis also cut food supplies to tiny Qatar. This would have brought the tiny country to its knees and initially there was panic in Doha but other countries, notably Iran, Turkey, and Russia came to its rescue frustrating the Saudi-led blackmailing campaign.
Qatari rulers have already downgraded links with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas but shutting down al-Jazeera and severing links with Islamic Iran are non-starters. Doha was given 10 days to comply with Saudi demands or face unspecified consequences. Supported by Iran, Turkey, and Russia, an emboldened Qatar refused to blink. The Saudis were forced to climb down and extend the deadline by two days but Doha’s rulers remained defiant. They described the demands as “unrealistic, unreasonable, and unacceptable.”
While Qatar has repeatedly called for dialogue, it has said such discussion would only begin once the sanctions were lifted. In other words, they refused to negotiate while the Saudis held a gun to their head. Speaking at the Chatham House in London on July 5, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman Al Thani said, “Qatar continues to call for dialogue despite the violation of international laws and regulations, despite the separation of 12,000 families, despite the siege that is a clear [act of] aggression and an insult to all international treaties, bodies, and jurisdictions,” he pointed out.
Al Thani noted that countries involved in targeting Qatar “were demanding that we have to surrender our sovereignty to end the siege, something which… Qatar will never do.” Responding to the demand that his country downgrade its ties with Tehran, Qatar’s top diplomat said Qatar and Iran were neighbors and had to live alongside each other. He further noted that the two countries share a giant gas field.
The joint field — called the North Dome field in Qatar and South Pars gas field in Iran — is the world’s largest gas field with estimated reserves of 51 trillion m3 of natural gas and some 50 billion barrels of condensate. Experts believe that the field has more recoverable reserves than all other fields combined.
Al Thani berated his Arabian neighbors for closing their borders and airspace to Qatari nationals and airline. He said these “were clearly designed to create anti-Qatar sentiment in the West.” Making clear that Doha was not going to buckle under such pressure, the Qatari foreign minister said he saw little chance of a rapid reconciliation, and that Doha was preparing for a wider diplomatic rift. “What we’ve done in the last few weeks is develop different alternatives for ways to ensure the supply chain for the country not to be cut off,” he said.
Caught on the horns of a self-created dilemma, the four Arabian regimes’ foreign ministers met in Cairo on July 5 to try and craft a response to Qatar’s defiance. While huffing and puffing, the only thing they could do was to issue a statement that said Doha was “not serious” in ending the crisis. The host, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told reporters at a joint news conference in Cairo that Qatar’s response was “generally negative,” describing it as a “position that reflects a failure to realize the gravity of the situation.” Whose failure it really is was not lost on the assembled journalists even if they did not dare question Shukri for fear of being sent to the dungeon.
The crisis erupted as a result of these regimes’ folly in following the ignorant and ill-mannered Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman whose signature mark is to destroy everything that he touches. He has made a mess in Yemen, failed miserably in Syria, has taken on Iran that carries huge risks for Saudi Arabia, and has now deliberately spoiled relations with a fellow Arabian country that subscribes to the same obscurantist Wahhabi thinking as Bani Saud. Even with tiny Qatar, Bani Saud have failed despite lining up a number of regimes behind their ill-conceived policy. How otherwise mature looking men could behave in such a childish manner is beyond belief.
Working on the assumption that Qatar would be a pushover, the Saudis demanded that Doha must also pay an unspecified sum in compensation to the four Arab countries for the “loss of life and other financial losses caused by Doha’s policies.” True, Qatar’s sovereign fund estimated at $335 billion is the largest in the world and viewed with much envy by others but Doha was not going to hand it over the desert Bedouins. It was an attempt at grand larceny by the Saudis with their rapidly dwindling fortunes and their begging bowl cohorts, especially Egypt and Bahrain.
Emboldened by the support they have received from friends, the Qataris have established a committee to pursue compensation claims against the four belligerent states. These, Doha says have arisen from the blockade imposed by the four Arabian regimes. In making the announcement on July 9, Qatar’s Attorney General Ali bin Fetais al-Marri told a press conference in Doha that he would oversee the Compensation Claims Committee. It would also include senior officials from the ministries of foreign affairs and justice. Elaborating further, al-Marri said, “This committee will receive all claims, whether from the public sector, private sector, or individuals.”
These would include Qatar Airways that has been barred from the four countries’ airspace in contravention of international air transport regulations, banks or individuals, including Qatari students, who have been expelled from the countries where they were studying. They would be able to file claims over the “siege” in Qatari courts or those abroad, including in Paris and London. An estimated 12,000 Qataris have been affected by such punitive measures that even Amnesty International found the courage to denounce.
When the crisis first erupted, US President Donald Trump took credit for setting the Arabian dogs upon one of their own but saner voices in Washington soon asserted themselves seeing great risk in the crisis that far from ending, seems to be escalating. American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shuttled between Riyadh, Kuwait, and Doha on July 11 and 12 but did not get very far in his diplomatic mission. The only thing he got was an agreement with Qatar that pledged to stem funding to terrorist groups. Caught between a boneheaded Saudi prince and the injured pride of the Qataris, he was no closer to solution following his shuttle diplomacy.
The Saudis have dug themselves into a hole but they are too dumb to realize that the first step in getting out of it is to stop digging. If Bin Salman (BS) keeps digging, he will soon bury himself.