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Qatar repulses isolation attempt by Saudi Arabia

Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani skipped the recent Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) annual summit. Despite the Saudi king’s personal invitation to the Qatari ruler to attend the meeting and his call for GCC unity, the Saudi and Bahraini foreign ministers indicated that no reconciliation would occur with Qatar until it accepts the 13 demands that the so-called Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ) had set in July 2017.

The demands, which required Qatar to shutter Aljazeera TV and sever relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, were intended to change Qatar’s status from a sovereign state to a Saudi vassal state. Tamim refused to yield to Muhammed bin Salman’s power grab or accept his grandiose architecture of regional hegemony.

Qatar’s recent multi-year LNG contracts with Britain and China indicate that the industrial nations have accepted Qatar as a world leader in liquified natural gas. Now that Tamim has freed himself of OPEC, will he take the next logical step and pull out of the Saudi dominated GCC?

MbS’ well-financed lobbying effort in Washington, London and other capitals has failed to gain traction against Qatar or to accept the legitimacy of the Saudi anti-Qatar belligerency. Western senior policy makers have for the most part seen through MbS’ dubious machinations against Qatar and its ruler. MbS has also been implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as was recently confirmed by Republican U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker.

The Saudi decision to isolate Qatar has failed because of several disingenuous accusations against the Qatari ruler. These charges include Qatar’s perceived anti-Saudi campaign through the Qatari-owned Aljazeera Television; close relations with the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood; undermining the GCC; and friendly relations with Iran. These claims were no more than a PR gimmick designed to turn Western leaders, especially President Trump, against Qatar. MbS’ fundamental intent has always been to effect a regime change in Doha.

MbS and his friendly autocrats in Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE have frequently denounced Aljazeera’s coverage of Arab political and social issues and called on Qatar to shutter the news network. They loathed the network’s advocacy for reform, democracy, anti-corruption and freedom.

Qatar was the first Gulf Arab state in the 1990s to start a professional news service dedicated to relatively fair, free and open dialogue. When the United States government tried to undermine Aljazeera’s message after 9/11 by establishing Radio Sawa and Al-Hurrah network, public opinion polls reported that Arab youth would tune into Sawa and al-Hurrah for music and then switch back to Aljazeera for news and analysis. Neither the United States nor Saudi Arabia and its allies were able to silence the Qatari-funded network.

Having failed to silence the network, MbS foolishly embarked on trying to kill the messenger. This is exactly how he dealt with journalist Jamal Khashoggi – he killed him because he failed to silence his message.

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has not been declared a terrorist organization in any Western country, including in the United States. Egypt’s autocrat Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared the MB a “terrorist” organization after he toppled its popularly elected president Muhammad Morsi in a military coup July 3, 2013. The Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini regimes followed suit for regional political reasons. For MbS to claim that Qatar supports and funds terrorism is like the pot calling the kettle black.

The two other unsubstantiated charges levied by MbS against Qatar to justify his blockade include Qatar’s “undermining” the Gulf Cooperation Council and its cozying up to Iran. Neither charge is factual. For years, GCC leaders, including Saudi Arabia, have refused to form a joint defense front and opted to act as individual states. To many of them, the GCC was just “Hatchi,” which meant “just talk.”

Since ascending to power, MbS has bungled Saudi relations with Gulf neighbors and globally. His reputation in Washington and elsewhere has tarnished. If the royal family is interested in restoring the strategic Saudi-American partnership, will it have the courage to ease MbS out of power and appoint someone else other than his brother as ambassador to Washington? Will the Saudis pursue ways to end the disastrous war in Yemen and work toward rapprochement with Iran for the sake of Gulf and regional stability?

Emile Nakhleh is Director, Global and National Security Policy Institute at UNM and a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer at the CIA. A longer version of this article is on LobeLog.