Tag Archives: Qatar

On Qatar and Gulf Geopolitics

3 Sep

Prefatory Note: The post below in the slightly modified text of an interview by the Tunisian journalist Awatef Ben Ali on behalf of the Qatar newspaper, Al Sharq, August 26, 2018.)

 

 

 

Q 1: From the perspective of international law, is the blockade on the State of Qatar and the 13 demands of the countries of the blockade legal and respecting international sovereignty?

 

A: The 13 demands of the Gulf Coalition plus Egypt, as well as the blockade of Qatar, are unlawful, violating Qatari sovereignty by using diplomatic and economic coercion to interfere with activities that are within the discretion of a sovereign state. It is a regional geopolitical tactic that tries to leverage superior power in ways that induce weaker and smaller states to sacrifice their rights under international law. The allegations of support for terrorism are without any factual foundation and are not supported by any credible evidence, and can be leveled at Qatar’s accusers with more justification than the allegation being made against Qatar. Not only are the 13 demands violations of international law, they are also disruptive of proper and customary diplomatic protocol, an assessment reinforced by Qatar membership in good standing of the GCC and its repeated calls for a negotiated end to the crisis.

 

 

Q 2: The State of Qatar resorted to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to prove the attacks on the rights of its citizens? How do you view these advocates as a legal perspective?

 

A: Recourse to the ICJ is appropriate in situations in which an international legal dispute exists, and cannot be resolved by normal diplomacy. Since the outset of the crisis in 2017 Qatar has repeatedly expressed its willingness to accept third party mediation of the dispute, and to do its part to reach a mutually acceptable political compromise. In contrast, the Coalition merely reiterated its demands and showed no willingness to end the crisis by peaceful negotiation. Qatar has every right to make use of its legal remedies under international law, and if it has a treaty right to resolve disputes with other Gulf states by recourse to the ICJ then this is a constructive step that represents a constructive approach to bring the crisis to a peaceful end in accordance with international law and in the interests of justice. Individuals harmed by this unlawful series of coercive steps should receive relief commensurate to the harm experienced, as well as being relieved of any burdens imposed by the Coalition’s policies.

 

 

Q 3: Qataris were deprived of Hajj. How does the law and the international community view this Saudi abuse?

 

A: As far as I know there is no international legal obligation that compels Saudi Arabia to allow Qataris to enter their country to complete the Hajj. There may be religious commitments and diplomatic traditions that have long been accepted by Saudi Arabia in upholding in good faith its role as custodian of the most holy of Muslim sacred sites. Such diplomatic traditions, as exhibited by patterns of practice over the course of many years, have created expectations that such entry to Saudi Arabia for such a religious purpose will be facilitated. Whether a regional or international legal duty should be established should be considered and discussed. It would seem reasonable to impose such a legal obligation for entry and security on Saudi Arabia because Muslims are obligated by their religion to do the Hajj at least once in their life, and this religious undertaking should not be obstructed by political interference. The translation of such a religious duty into a legal right is something that deserves careful consideration, perhaps in the context of expanding the right of religious freedom that is a legally protected international human right that may require more direct protection in view of these recent interferences with Muslim entry to carry out the Hajj.

 

 

Q 4: The Gulf crisis has reached a stage of stagnation. How do you see the efforts of the Gulf, American and European mediation?

 

A: As mentioned earlier, Qatar is ready to submit the crisis to mediation or any reasonable third party procedure, while the Gulf Coalition is adamant in its refusal.  As your question suggests there are plenty of willing mediators or third parties from the region and from Europe or the United States. The UN Charter underscores the duty of states to seek a peaceful solution of disputes that threaten international peace and security. Given the turmoil in the Middle East, the Gulf Crisis creates one additional flashpoint that could erupt at any time in dangerous and unpredictable ways. The idea of mediation is a means to give both sides a way of resolving the crisis without either side having to acknowledge defeat or endure some kind of diplomatic humiliation. It seem mandatory, in the spirit of the peaceful settlement of dispute, for the leaders of the Gulf Coalition to accept offers of mediation with a sense of urgency, and not prolong this regionally detrimental crisis that also causes harm to many individuals forced to sever their ties with Qatar, or have their relations with other Gulf countries disrupted in ways that result in unfair, arbitrary, and often heavy burdens.

 

Q 5: The State of Qatar plays a pivotal strategic role as a regional negotiator through its strong relationship with a number of major countries and its support to a number of countries, most recently Turkey. How do you evaluate this role?

 

A: An irony of the crisis is that Qatar has in recent years played a consistently moderating role in relation to several regional conflicts, and has engaged in relations beyond the Arab World that have produced economic, security, and diplomatic benefits for the region. Indeed, Qatar has used its wealth and influence in largely imaginative ways to establish mutually beneficial regional and international relationships. In this regard Qatar can be viewed as a small country that has played a diplomatic role beyond its size and capabilities, and could serve as a model of how to be effective as a sovereign state through reliance on the instrumentalities of ‘soft power.’

 

 

Q 6: How do you see the problematic developments between Saudi Arabia and Canada? And how do you to evaluate Saudi foreign policy. (The siege of Qatar, the war of Yemen, the Canadian crisis)?

 

A: Saudi Arabia behavior toward Canada expresses the same effort to bully foreign governments by threats and intimidating moves whenever its leadership feels that its policies have been criticized or its motives challenged. Canada’s criticism of Saudi behavior is quite appropriate given the international character of human rights standards, especially where, as here, legitimate Canadian interests are at stake.  The Saudi response to Canada is consistent with their belligerent behavior with respect to Qatar, as well as their outrageous tactics of warfare in Yemen, which include repeated bombing of civilian sites and interferences with the delivery of food and medicine in a country where there exists a strong internationally verified likelihood of mass starvation and where the population is suffering from a series of dire health challenges. The Saudi Arabian attack upon and intervention in Qatar is a moral and legal scandal that as with Syria displays the inability of either the United Nations or geopolitical actors to protect the peace and security of small countries that become targets of aggressive warfare.

 

 

Q 7: How do you see the role of Abu Dhabi and its quest to dominate the Gulf region?

 

A: I am not an expert on the behavior of the UAE in the region, but from recent appearances, their behavior resembles and reinforces the hegemonic ambitions of Saudi Arabia, and threatens to cause wider regional warfare by its support of policies of confrontation with Iran. It is important for peace, security, and sustainability that this kind of hegemonic diplomacy by UAE should be abandoned. Among other concerns, the region is very vulnerable to the hazards of global warming, and these aggressive moves cause political preoccupations that divert energies and resources from challenges that are present and need to be addressed before it is too late.

 

Q 8: How would ‘the Deal of the century’ affect Saudi Arabia and the UAE. How do you interpret this deal and its impact on the Palestinian cause and the Arab world?

 

A: Of course, in one respect it is premature to comment on ‘the deal’ as its contents have not been formally disclosed, and are the subject of rather divergent lines of interpretation.

 

It is a serious political mistake to attribute great importance to Trump’s uninformed boast to make ‘the deal of the century.’ All indications is that this is a deal that will never achieve the status of a serious conflict-ending proposal that is balanced and takes the rights of both peoples into account. From all indications, what Trump/Kushner have in mind seems to presuppose the surrender of Palestinian politicalrights, including the right of self-determination and the right of return, receiving in return ‘a bowl of porridge.’ Such a deal is and should be a non-starter in the post-colonial age, and will be rejected by every important Palestinian voice, including those living in foreign countries or in refugee camps in the region. It will be a costly diplomatic mistake for Saudi Arabia and the UAE to be seen as encouraging such a flawed approach to the Palestinian national struggle, an approach that would almost certainly include considering Jerusalem to be under the exclusive sovereign control of Israel. Trump has already indicated that moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem has removed the issue from any future peace negotiations. Israel has revealed and confirmed itself as an apartheid state by recently passing the Nation-State Law of the Jewish People denying equal rights to non-Jews as a matter of law. If Saudi Arabia and the UAE side with the Trump diplomacy that seeks to achieve a final betrayal of Palestinian rights, they will find themselves on the wrong side of history as well as antagonizing Arabs, Muslims, and partisans of human rights and justice throughout the world. Instead of the deal of the century that is a formula for the declaration of an Israeli victory and Palestinian defeat, the governments of the region should be demanding a peaceful solution based on dismantling apartheid structures, ending the blockade of Gaza, and acknowledging the rights of the Palestinian people.  From all appearances this will not be remembered as ‘the deal of the century’ but cast aside as ‘the most fraudulent bargain ever put forward in the century.’

 

 

Q: What is your international low opinion about the latest news published by New York Times describing the electronic spying operations of Israel and Emirites, including the targeting of the Emir of Doha and a lot of political leaders?

 

 

These spyware developments are serious but hardly new in what they seek to achieve. Throughout the history of international relations governments pay money and use a changing variety of methods to gain access to the secrets and private communications of their adversaries. What makes this issue surface as in these recent allegations of the use of spyware against private communications of the leaders of Qatar, including the Emir and his family, is the growing sophistication of the technology and its ability to penetrate what had previously considered to be secure channels of communication, evidently including surveillance of cell phone conversations. Another striking feature of the present atmosphere is the role of private sector profit motives either reinforcing or challenging broader foreign policy positions. For instance, the UAE has no formal relations with Israel, but it happily purchases spyware from an Israeli company, NSO, exhibiting a relationship that could not exist without the knowledge and likely the approval of the Government of Israel.

 

From the perspective of international law, espionage has always had a double reality. On the one side, it is an unlawful form of interference with the sovereignty of a foreign country, which the target government criminalizes with punishments inflicted at its discretion, while the government responsible for the espionage glorifies its agents, or falsely denies their dirty deeds. On the other side, its practice is so common, and taken for granted, that it is difficult to regard allegations of espionage or surveillance as other than propaganda, with the government complaining, pretending to be outraged while itself relying on similar mechanisms to carry out espionage for its own security or to advance its policies.

 

The only sensible approach at this time is to ask whether the spyware being developed so radically alters the privacy of leaders and the security of states as supporting an argument to negotiate a new treaty of prohibition, similar to the prohibition of certain weapons of warfare such as biological and chemical weapons. This is the issue that should be discussed and debated to discover whether there is a

practical way to regulate and implement any prohibition of unacceptably intrusive espionage that can be agreed upon. A novel feature of digital spyware is that can penetrate deeply into the most secret recesses of foreign societies without requiring any physicalintrusion, and therefor it is spyware without spies, and resembles drones on the rather frightening frontiers of warfare where the human presence is eliminated, and the battlefield populated by machines capable of causing devastation of the most severe character.

 

As the Edward Snowden disclosures demonstrated a few years ago, governments are also using this technology to establish elaborate surveillance networks directed at their own citizenry, undermining trust and freedom in democratic societies. Thus the issues raised by the new types of spyware extend beyond espionage as practiced in international relation, and touch upon the nature of constitutional democracy in the 21stcentury.

 

These are important issues for our time that need to be faced as openly as possible, but without a misleading exhibition of legalism and moralism, which thinly veils propaganda designed to blame others for behavior that is common to all international participants.

 

 

 

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Are the 13 Demands to Qatar a ‘Geopolitical Crime’?

11 Jul

[Prefatory Note: the following post is part of an ongoing project assessing the international relations and international law Gulf Crisis that was initiated by a coalition of four countries, issuing a set of 13 demands directed at the government of Qatar. Qatar rejected the demands as contrary to its sovereign rights and international law, and at the same time offered to mediate the dispute. The Gulf Coalition rejected the approach, insisting on Qatar’s compliance, and causing harm to the state of Qatar and those resident in the country by blocking access and abruptly cutting relations. The essay below evaluates this experience from the perspective of whether the confrontation should be treated as a ‘Geopolitical Crime,” itself an innovative and controversial idea that I developed in a lecture at Queen Mary’s University in London at the end of March, 2018.]

 

Confronting Qatar: Gulf Crisis or Geopolitical Crime? Evaluating an Innovative Approach to Confrontational Diplomacy

 

Points of Departure

 

The general designation of the year long confrontation between the Gulf Coalition (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt) and Qatar has been one-sided from its inception. A series of demands were directed at Qatar in the form of an ultimatum. The demands were unreasonable, challenging Qatar’s sovereign rights, and violating the most fundamental precepts of international law. [For detailed demonstration see Falk, “A Normative Evaluation of the Gulf Crisis,” Policy Brief #1, Feb. 2018] The Gulf Coalition refused Qatar’s repeated formal expressions of a willingness to accept a negotiated or a mediated end of the confrontation. Such willingness was particularly forthcoming as Qatar was the wrongfully harmed party due to the policies put into operation by the Gulf Coalition to reinforce its demands with punitive acts. By way of contrast the Gulf Coalition has so far defiantly refused even to consider a diplomatic resolution of the crisis, pushing its agenda by issuing threats and warnings.

 

For these reasons it has been deeply misleading to refer to the inflamed situation involving Qatar as a crisis, which in international relations is a normatively neutral term, referring to a set of circumstances that involves a dangerous and unresolved encounter between adversaries. It is the argument of this policy brief that a more accurate way of grasping the true character of the situation, given the unprovoked wrongfulness and one-sidedness of this confrontation, as well as the disparities in size and power is to treat the confrontation under the rubric of ‘Geopolitical Crime.’

 

The question posed from this perspective is to consider whether the Gulf Coalition should be viewed as responsible for committing an a serious and ongoing Geopolitical Crime, the victims of which are the State of Qatar, and its people, as well third parties and foreign nationals hurt by the blockade and other coercive measures adopted by the Gulf Coalition. To inquire from this perspective first requires clarification as to the nature and status of what is here being called a Geopolitical Crime.

 

The allegations of Geopolitical Crime is certainly not intended to contradict or displace the assertion that Qatar has also been harmed by violations of public international law as a result of Gulf Coalition threats and acts. The reasons to bring up claims of Geopolitical Criminality is to emphasize the possibility of an appropriate informal and more flexible approach to the allocation of responsibility for harm caused and hopefully add diplomatic weight to efforts to end the confrontation and restore normalcy to the sub-regional politics of the Gulf. Alleging a Geopolitical Crime has no implications for waiving or overlooking recourse to several overlapping remedies under international law. [To be discussed in subsequent policy brief]

 

It should also be realized that even without claiming any status of Geopolitical Crime within international criminal law, the nature of the ‘crime’ is controversial, and needs to be appreciated as a proposed innovation with respect to diplomacy and international ethics. Yet it appears to be beneficial step toward creating greater compliance by dominant global and regional actors with widely accepted international norms, as well as mounting a challenge to current patterns of impunity

with respect to the crimes of such actors. As matters now stand, geopolitical actors

form part of the vertical structure of existing world order, which effectively exempts these actors from any obligation to conform to international law whenever its rules collide with the pursuit of their national interests and strategic priorities. In this respect, this kind of deference to power has the effect of making international law a weapon of the strong against the weak. It thus parallels the Un Charter that grants a right of veto to the five Permanent Members of the Security Council, which amounts to telling these five countries that for them adherence to the Un Charter is essentially voluntarywhile for the other 188 or so sovereign states adherence is mandatory. As was said of the Un when established, it is an institution designed to regulate the mice while the lions roam free.

 

In effect, the assertion of Geopolitical Crime offers a modest means for potentially extending the reach of international law to regulate the behavior of the lions, modifying the normative structures that have so far only been effective in keeping weaker states, the mice, either submissive or discouraged from engaging in disruptive behavior. Geopolitics is the vertical dimension of world order, while the relations of ordinary states is the horizontal dimension, subject to the norm of juridical equality, which ignores the relevance of political inequality, subverting law by treating equals unequally. In the current impasse Qatar is denied the protection of its fundamental rights because the Gulf Coalition is taking advantage of its sub-regional geopolitical status to engage in coercive diplomacy while avoiding legal accountability.

 

Yet the proposal to supplement international criminal law by recognizing Geopolitical Crimes is about more than giving Qatar an additional line of political and moral argument by which to vindicate their specific grievances arising from the pressures exerted by the Gulf Coalition. It is a wider response to the realization that throughout history much human suffering, devastating warfare, economic exploitation, social collapse, and political abuse have resulted directly or indirectly from the commission of Geopolitical Crimes, which have not been acknowledged, much less prevented and apprehended. The position taken here is that the delimitation of Geopolitical Crime will have a positive effect on international public opinion and civil society, and could tip the balance of diplomatic activity in concrete ways helpful to victims of Geopolitical Crime. Without such a categorization, there is an operative set of beliefs that geopolitical behavior is completely unregulated and discretionary, and at most is subject to criticism as imprudent or as in this instance

that sub-regional geopolitics should give way to promote regional and global geopolitical goals, either defined by reference to counterterrorism or as establishing a unified front against Iran.

 

 

The nature and relevance of Geopolitical Crimes

An important techical point: Geopolitical Crimes are notnow recognized as such by international criminal law, and could not be made the subject of a valid complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC). At the same time, Geopolitical Crimes are important markers of wrongful behavior in a variety of international contexts and offer helpful criteria for resolving dangerous and harmful situations of the sort facing the government of Qatar. It may be useful to consider Geopolitical Crimes as a species of illegitimateinternational behavior, and as such, politicallyand morallywrongful, although definitely outside the present scope of legalaccountability.

 

Geopolitical Crimes are wrongful acts of those sovereign states with geopolitical capabilities to adopt policies that deliberately are harmful to other sovereign states and to people. Geopolitical actors can be contrasted with ordinary sovereign states,

although the existence of power disparities are relative and contextual. Thus, the United States may be a geopolitical actor in relation to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Coalition while these actors are geopolitical actors in relation to Qatar, which is the case for the situation here being considered.

 

A geopolitical relationship does not result in the commission of a Geopolitical Crime unless there is evidence of an intention to cause harm or a negligent failure to perceive the probable effects of actions and policies. Among prominent historical examples of Geopolitical Crime is the Versailles ‘peace diplomacy’ as it affected Europe and the Middle East, taking the forms of imposing a punitive peace on Germany after World War I, and privileging colonial ambition over the wellbeing

of resident peoples and societies after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire by imposing European territorial communities in place of the millet system of ethnic and religious communities. The Balfour Declaration and its incorporation in arrangements imposed on Palestine and its majority Arab population is another illustration of a Geopolitical Crime. [For further elaboration of these examples see Falk, ISCI Annual Lecture, Queen Mary’s University London, March 2018] A more recent example of a Geopolitical Crime in the Middle East resulted from the imposition of indiscriminate sanctions on Iraq after the Gulf War of 1991 that produced several hundred thousand civilian deaths, and was maintained in the face of official knowledge of these lethal impacts on innocent lives by the U.S. Government.

 

Extending this analysis to Qatar, the question is whether the Gulf Coalition wrongfully adopted and maintained policies foreseeably harmful to the people and state of Qatar. Both wrongfulness and awareness are elements of the crime. The wrongfulness seems demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt by the explicit nature of the 13 Demands that also confirms awareness that was acknowledged by periodic reassertion of the demands by high officials representing Gulf Coalition governments. The conciliatory responses of the Qatar Governmet to these wrongful demands and accompanying coercive diplomacy strengthens the allegation of Geopolitical Crime.

 

 

The Pros and Cons of Claiming Geopolitical Crime

 

As suggested, describing wrongdoing by geopolitical actors as Geopolitical Crime is controversial, and needs to be carefully evaluated as a general tactic for extending normative constraints to geopolitical actors. The goal is to protect those states and  people harmed by this almost totally unregulated and very damaging forms of international wrongdoing. There are two types of Geopolitical Crimes that are associated with major loopholes in the effective coverage of international law: first, diplomatic initiatives that cause foreseeable harm, yet are not prohibited by existing international law, such as punitive sanctions imposed by a victorious country on a devastated and defeated country; secondly, diplomatic moves that violate existing legal norms, even to the extent of being crimes against humanity or gross violations of international criminal law, but are not enforceable against geopolitical actors and their close allies, creating double standards with respect to the implementation of legal norms.

 

The contention here is that the Gulf Coalition demands and coercive acts fall under the second category of Geopolitical Crime, that is, involving prohibited behavior that is beyond the present reach of enforceablelaw, leaving Qatar seemingly without an effective formal remedy. The appeal of reliance on an allegation of Geopolitical Crime is to awake the conscience of the world to this vulnerability, mobilizing pressures on the Gulf Coalition to drop their demands, restore normal relations by ending blockade, boycott, and any other coercive measures directed at Qatar, and ideally, accept responsibility for all damages sustained by Qatar, Qataris, and third parties caught in this web of wrongdoing.

 

Given this complexity it seems helpful to assess whether the advantages of alleging that the Gulf Coalition behavior is a Geopolitical Crimes outweighs the disadvantages before the leadership of Qatar determines at this stage its best policy options.

 

As far as advantages are concerned, the following factors are relevant:

–to allege a Geopolitical Crime does not require any elaborate preparations or expense;

–the text of the 13 Demands is so manifestly in violation of Qatar’s fundamental rights as to make a persuasive presentation;

–as the allegation is informal it leaves open a path to a diplomatic resolution of the situation, avoiding formal embarrassment of the Gulf Coalition member states;

–relying on a Geopolitical Crime argument makes Qatar’s grievances easy for the media and public to grasp, and puts Qatar’s position in a clear and sympathetic manner;

–advancing this argument is a constructive contribution by way of filling the gaps in international law by a recourse to moral and political considerations, particularly helpful for weaker sovereign states and a step to legal accountability by geopolitical actors who are now able to avoid, or at least evade, legal obligations.

 

As far as disadvantages are concerned, the following factors are relevant:

–the allegation of Geopolitical Crime will be regarded as controversial, and even provocative, and could have the effect of escalating the confrontation, making a solution more difficult to obtain;

–as the concept of Geopolitical Crime is threatening to other major political actors in the world, it might be viewed as an unwelcome, and even dangerous innovation, which could discourage diplomatic attempts by such countries as the United States from continuing to seek reconciliation and compromise among the parties;

–as Geopolitical Crime challenges directly the Gulf Coalition it might obstruct moves toward reconciliation and compromise, as well as make terms of a solution more difficult to agree upon;

–if the Qatar primary goal is to end the confrontation, and nothing more, the emphasis on Geopolitical Crime could make a reconciliation process more complicated as it would likely introduce issues of liability and responsibility with respect to private interests.

 

 

In the end, a choice must be made as to whether at this stage of the encounter with the Gulf Coalition putting forward the Geopolitical Crime argument helps Qatar attain its spectrum of goals including peace, reconciliation, mediation, and harmony among Gulf countries and unity within the Gulf Cooperation Council.

 

Whatever decision is reached it seems helpful to be aware of the Geopolitical Crime approach as possibly applicable to this type of difficult situation facing the leadership of the sovereign state of Qatar.

 

8 June 2018

 

The Gulf Crisis Reassessed

12 Mar

[Prefatory Note: The dysfunctionality of the Gulf Crisis, pitting a coalition of four countries, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt against tiny Qatar, is emblematic of the descent into multi-dimensional chaos, conflict, and coercion that afflicts much of the Middle East. Qatar may be tiny, but it is wealthy and has chosen for itself a somewhat independent path, and for this reason has experienced the wrath of the more reactionary forces operative in the region and world. At the center of the dysfunction is the manipulation of the political discourse on terrorism, pointing accusing fingers without any regard for evidence or fabrication.

 My text below seeks to put forward a dispassionate and objective analysis from the perspective of international law and diplomatic protocol of the so-called ’13 Demands’ (appended as an annex) directed at Qatar by the coalition almost a year ago. Despite having its own internal problems and challenges, Qatar has provided a relatively open political space compared to the rest of the region, encouraging media and educational diversity, giving asylum to political exiles and refugees, and showing sympathy, although inconsistently, for the aspirations of the Arab masses. This makes the Gulf Crisis a further setback for those seeking regional empowerment, sustainable development, and social, political, economic, cultural, and climate justice for the region as a whole. The intrusion of Trumpian geopolitics, especially the escalating confrontation with Iran, aggravates the disorders and dangers posed by the conflict patterns and irresponsible allegations with regard to terrorism now playing out in the region. I believe that by reflecting on the unreasonableness of the 13 Demands of the coalition it is possible to understand better the maladies affecting the entire region.]

 

 

A Normative Evaluation of the Gulf Crisis

 

The Gulf Crisis erupted on June 5 2017 when a Saudi Arabian led coalition of

four countries broke diplomatic relations with Qatar and Saudi Arabia closed its sole land border to Saudi Arabia and refused to allow their national air spaces to be used by flights from or to Qatar.[1] The imposition of a blockade is generally regarded as an act of war in contemporary international law, which is also a violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition of recourse to international force except in cases of self-defense against a prior armed attack. (UN Charter, Article 2(4), 51) These unilateral moves were then given a more concrete form on June 22 in the shape of ’13 Demands’ that instructed Qatar to comply within ten days, or face indefinite isolation. There followed failed attempts by Kuwait to mediate. From the start the leadership of Qatar expressed its immediate willingness for dialogue as the correct way to resolve the Gulf Crisis; as well, the United States and several principal countries in Europe urged a diplomatic resolution of the dispute as being in the interest of the Gulf region and the Middle East generally.

 

In this paper the 13 Demands of the Saudi coalition (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt) are considered from the perspective of international law (including the UN Charter), the protocols of international diplomacy, and the framework of cooperation associated with the GCC framework. The paper analyzes these normative dimensions of international relations with special attention to the specific context associated with Qatar and the Coalition. This analysis is supplemented by a consideration of whether there are grounds for making some adjustments in Qatari policy based on its affinities with other states that are member of the GCC, including a large number of shared policy goals. From the outset, it seemed as if all sides in the conflict, at least outwardly, favored a prompt resolution of the crisis, but how this could be achieved given the sovereignty concerns of Qatar remains elusive 8 months later. The formidable obstacles to normalization are evident from the nature of the 13 demands of the Coalition and Qatar’s unshakable resolve to defend its independence and uphold its sovereign rights.

 

Attention is also given as to whether Coalition grievances have some policy merit if treated as a matter of ‘reasonableness’ within the GCC framework even if the 13 demands do not make the case that Qatar should change its behavior because its policies have been violating international law. Are there ways for the government of Qatar to alter its policies to satisfy the Coalition without sacrificing its fundamental identity as a fully sovereign state and member of the United Nations in good standing? In this regard, the internal values and expectations of the GCC with respect to the degree to which diversity of public order internal to the state is permissible and the extent to which domestic and foreign policy of a GCC member state needs to avoid causing impacts on the security of other GCC members are relevant considerations.

 

 

The 2014 Gulf Crisis

 

It seems important to realize that tensions between GCC members and Qatar have been present since the time of the GCC’s formation, but for reasons of internal cohesion these disagreements were for years kept below the surface. However, as these underlying tensions greatly intensified after the Arab Spring of 2011 it became increasingly difficult to maintain confidentiality as to policy differences. These differences climaxed as a result of the regional growth of influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was regarded as a serious threat by the Coalition states while being viewed rather more favorably by Qatar. It was hardly a secret that this rise of the Brotherhood was perceived as a hostile and potentially dangerous development by several GCC countries, and especially UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as Bahrain.

 

In this regard, Qatar’s sympathy for the Arab uprisings and its relatively positive relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood struck a raw nerve in relations within the GCC, raising serious questions about the workability of the GCC as a collaborative alliance in the future. This discord broke into the open in March 2014 when Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in an obviously coordinated move. In response, Qatar sought dialogue and reconciliation, and decided to leave its ambassadors in place rather than engage in reciprocal withdrawal. The Emir, Sheik Tamim, took a diplomatic initiative by seeking reconciliation in the course of several meetings with King Abdullah in Riyadh.

 

The Qatar position in response was articulated at the time by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Khaled bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, who stressed early in the 2014 crisis that Qatar would not compromise with respect to its insistence on ‘independence’ for itself and other GCC members and in relation to showing support for peoples in the region seeking ‘self-determination, justice, and freedom.’ [Interview, Al-Arabiya, 5 March 2014] Such a position, especially after the MB did better than expected in elections, especially in Egypt, sharpened the tensions, with the Saudi-led Gulf monarchies being determined to do all in their power to promote counter-revolution in the region to the extent of criminalizing the MB as a terrorist organization. Qatar’s refusal to go along with such aggressive moves prompted the rupture in relations, but only temporarily.

 

With the encouragement of the non-aligned GCC members, Kuwait and Oman, there took place a GCC Summit in November 2014 that agreed to the Riyadh Supplemental Agreement that reaffirmed the GCC norms of non-interference and avoidance of behavior that poses a threat to the political stability of other members. GCC diplomatic relations were restored, and this first Gulf Crisis unrealistically viewed as having been resolved. The GCC was widely praised for surmounting its internal differences, and recognizing the strength of its fraternal bonds. Some optimistic commentators viewed this closing of ranks as a sign that the GCC had attained ‘maturity,’ but in retrospect the conflict was not overcome or compromised, but swept under the rug for the moment. The Riyadh Supplemental Agreement, although not a public document, apparently contains contradictory principles that allow both sides to find support for their positions. The Coalition can take heart from the commitment of participating governments not to adopt policies and engage in behavior that threatens other GCC members. Qatar can feel vindicated by the recognition and affirmation of the sovereign rights of GCC members.

 

Despite the formal resolution of the 2014 crisis it was evident even at the time that UAE, in particular, continued to be deeply opposed to what it regarded as Qatar’s positive relations with and public support for the MB. It was this rift as filtered through later developments, especially the sectarian and regional geopolitical opposition of the Coalition to Iran even in the face of difference of policy nuance among Coaltion member. The Coalition is not monolithic.. Nevertheless, certain tendencies are evident. Post-2014 Iran replaced the MB as the main adversary of the Coalition, while Qatar for entirely different reasons found itself in an economic and political position that demanded a level of cooperation with Iran, centered on the world’s largest natural gas field being shared by the two countries.

 

 

 

The Onset of the 2017 Crisis

 

While the American president, Donald Trump, was in Saudi Arabia for a formal state visit in May 2017, there were strong accusations directed at Qatar as funder and supporter of terrorism, not doing its part in the struggle against terrorism in the Middle East, views that were blandly endorsed by Trump without any plausible grounding in evidence. Following Trump’s departure, the Coalition hostile to Qatar was formed with the same GCC alignment of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE as antagonists and Kuwait and Oman as non-aligned. A major difference from 2014 was that the GCC initiative this time included the participation of Sisi’s Egypt, the new leader who had in 2013 overthrown the MB elected government and

who received major economic assistance from GCC governments.

 

On 6 June 2017 the anti-Qatar coalition announced intention to confront Qatar because of alleged support of terrorism throughout the Middle East. This declaration included the announcement that diplomatic relations would be suspended and Qatar’s land border with Saudi Arabia would be closed, air space blocked; in addition, 19,000 Qatari individuals given two weeks to leave Coalition countries, and 11,300 Coalitional nationals living in Qatar were ordered to return home or face serious penalties, an unusual example of ‘forced repatriation.’ Unlike 2014, Qatar withdrew its ambassadors from the three coalition members plus Egypt.

 

These actions met with strong Qatari objections, although coupled with an offer of dialogue and advocacy of a political solution. Qatar’s initiative did not lead to a favorable response from the Coalition membership. In fact, the Gulf Crisis was actually aggravated when the Coalition tabled its 13 Demands with an ultimatum demanding compliance within ten days.

 

It should be pointed out that this unilateralism by the Coalition, especially on the part of countries with many shared interests, common undertakings, and overlapping relationships, is directly opposed to the letter and spirit of Article 2(3) of the United Nations Charter: “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.” Here, the Coalition made no effort whatsoever to resolve the crisis peacefully, either by way of a call for diplomacy prior to taking coercive steps or through agreeing to mediation in the immediate aftermath of the crisis. Instead, these Coalition’s coercive moves caused harm to both the public interest of the state of Qatar and to private citizens of Qatar whose professional and personal lives were disrupted in serious ways that constituted violations of international human rights standards.

 

 

’13 Demands’ of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and UAE

 

The explicit focus of the 2017 crisis shifted its main attention to the campaign against terrorism, with a background allegation that Qatar had been funding and supporting terrorism in the Arab world for many years, and was thus an outlier in the GCC context. There were two dubious major assumptions accompanying the Coalition demands: (1) that the MB is correctly identified as a ‘terrorist organization;’ (2) that the members of the GCC Coalition, despite their own extensive funding of radical madrassas throughout the Muslim world, were less guilty than Qatar, of nurturing the terrorist threat in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East. In this respect, playing ‘the terrorist card’ by the Coalition obscured the extent to which the real explanation of the crisis had little to do with suppressing terrorism and much to do with confronting Iran, and thus disciplining Qatar in reaction to its disproportionate influence in the region, and controlling the terrorist discourse in a manner that corresponded with their strategy of considering as ‘terrorist’ any political movement that challenged in any way the legitimacy of Islamic dynastic rule. It is highly relevant that Qatar also is governed by dynastic monarchy, but in a manner that is far more consonant with international law than are its Coalition neighbors. Qatar is also more tolerant of diversity and dissent internally than other Coaltion members, but faces serious human rights challenges with respect to its non-Qatari residents who comprise the majority of the population.

 

The 13 Demands are set forth in a document released on June 6, 2017, giving a formal character to the Coalition’s disregard of international law and diplomatic protocol in its undertaking to control Qatar’s domestic and foreign policy. These demands can be examined from the perspective of international law and international human rights standards. It should be observed that the 13 demands are not presented in a reasoned way or with any attempt to be reconciled with either international law or diplomatic relations between sovereign states, especially here, where the relations are especially close given the juridical and practical collaborative activities of members of the GCC. As earlier comments make clear, there were clear tensions associated with Qatar’s perceived support for the MB, especially in Egypt, and its relative openness on issues of freedom of expression, which included criticism of Coalition countries.

 

What follows is brief commentary from the perspectives of international law and international diplomacy on each of the 13 demands:

 

  1. Curb diplomatic ties with Iranand close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.

This primary demand may be the most important political item on the list of 13, but it has no foundation in international law. Qatar as a sovereign state has complete freedom to establish whatever relationship it chooses to have with Iran.

From a diplomatic perspective this ‘demand’ can be interpreted as a request from the closely aligned states that constitute the Coalition, but if so construed, it is an occasion for discussion, and policy coordination, not coercive threats and actions.

As for the obligations associated with sanctions, there is no legal reason for Qatar to implement U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran. Qatar does have a limited obligation to uphold UN sanctions, but the Coalition has no standing, except possibly within a UN setting, to raise such an issue.

 

  1. Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.

Formulating this request in the form of a ‘demand’ seems an inappropriate intrusion on a matter within the sovereign discretion of Qatar. As with the first demand, the call for severance of ties with the MB and Hezbollah are of great importance to the Coalition, but this is a political matter to be discussed either within the GCC or some other forum. For the Islamic State and al-Qaida there is little disagreement about there character as a ‘terrorist organization,’ but for the MB and Hezbollah the assessment is more contested, and thus a demand that they be “formally declared” as a terrorist organization is inappropriate from perspectives of international law and international diplomacy.

 

  1. Shut down al-Jazeeraand its affiliate stations.

Such a demand is in flagrant violation of the right of freedom of expression as embodied in authoritative international law treaties and part of customary international law relating to human rights. In effect, Qatar is put under pressure to commit such a violation. It is especially objectionable as al-Jazeera and its affiliates conform to high standards of journalistic professionalism, and do not open their media outlets to hostile propaganda or hate speech. Demand (3) contravenes Articles 18 & 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

  1. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.

The same legal rationale applies as set forth in response to Demand (3). Further, here there is an attempted interference with Qatar’s support for high quality media elsewhere that is a public good, giving the peoples of the Middle East and elsewhere exposure to alternative viewpoints on the main public issues of the day.

 

  1. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presencein Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.

This demand attempt to intervene in the internal security arrangements of Qatar, and as such challenges its sovereign rights on a matter of prime national concern. It is an attempted violation of the central norms of peaceful relations, as set forth in the influential Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relation and Co-Operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, GA Resolution 2625, 1970, especially principles b-e, stressing sovereignty and non-intervention.

If Turkey was somehow posing an existential threat to Coalition countries, then a diplomatic appeal to a fellow GCC member might be a reasonable initiative. As matters now stand Turkey has a diplomatic presence in all Coalition members, except Egypt where relations are kept at the level of Charges d’Affiares. There is some friction between Turkey and the UAE on various issues, and so tensions exist, including in relation to resolving the Gulf Crisis. On its face, Demand (5) is entirely unreasonable from both the perspective of international law and normal diplomacy.

 

  1. Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terroristsby Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.

This may be the most extraordinarily inappropriate demand of all for two reasons. First, it removes from Qatar’s discretion the designation of “individuals, groups or organisations” that are deemed to be “terrorists.” This is an unacceptable intrusion on Qatar’s sovereign rights. And by including the United States it moves the source of Coalition grievance outside the framework of both the GCC and the Coalition. Egypt is also not a member of the GCC but at least a member of the Coalition.

It seems obvious that the effort here is to brand as terrorists those individuals and organizations associated with the MB and Hezbollah as directly targeted in Demand (2).

 

  1. Hand over “terrorist figures”and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.

Demand (7) suffers from the same deficiencies as (6) plus the added indignity of such vague and inflammatory designations as “‘terrorist figures’ and ‘wanted individuals.’” Such a demand could be formulated in acceptable diplomatic language as pertaining to those who had been convicted of crimes by courts in Coalition, and were subject to extradition following formal requests made to the Government of Qatar. Extradition would not be available if the person requested was convicted of ‘political crimes’ or if the trial process was not in accord with international standards, or if no extradition treaty or practice exists.

 

  1. End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.

 

Again as in Demand (7), the demanded action is a clear interference with core sovereign rights pertaining to the grant and withdrawal of citizenship of the State of Qatar, and as such an attempted violation of the norm prohibiting intervention. It seeks such a crude disregard of Qatari sovereignty as to constitute a grave diplomatic insult, which is a breach of protocol, especially inappropriate for countries supposedly collaborating on the basis of shared interests and common values within the GCC framework.

 

  1. Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.

As with Demand (8) to make such a demand public is to breach diplomatic protocol, as well as to express in this context of threat and insult issues that are within the sphere of Qatar’s internal security policies and practices. If the context were different, it might be that Coalition could make confidential requests to Doha institutions and officials for cooperation with respect to specific individuals deemed dangerous to one or more GCC member states, and even to Egypt. It might also be observed that reliable reports by the BBC and elsewhere that the UAE was holding a Qatari prince captive as a possible replacement for the Emir of Qatar. Such reports make this demand particularly objectionable and hypocritical.

 

  1. Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policiesin recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.

Demand (10) is on its face vague and unacceptable from the perspectives of international law and diplomacy. It is formulated as if “Qatar’s policies in recent yIears” can be assumed to be wrong and unlawful to such an extent as to justify a demand for “reparations and compensation.” This is not only an unlawful demand, it is irresponsibly asserted in a manner that any government would find to be insulting and totally unacceptable.

  1. Consent to monthly audits for the first yearafter agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.

As with the prior demand, Demand (11) seems such a departure from the canons of public diplomacy as to be inserted as a deliberate provocation on a fundamental matter of Qatar sovereign rights. In effect, Demand (11) is seeking a humiliating public surrender of Qatar’s sovereignty, and a basic repudiation of the most fundamental standard of international diplomacy—the equality of sovereign states. Under no conditions, short of terms imposed on a defeated government after a war can such a requirement of “monthly audits” for a period of ten years be deemed reasonable or acceptable.

 

  1. Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.

Unlike other demands, especially Demands (9)-(11), Demand (12) on its face seems relatively unobjectionable, and can be understood as a mere call for greater collaboration. It can also be read as unacceptably putting Qatar in a subordinate position of ‘aligning itself’ on policy matters with Coalition and unspecified other “Arab countries” rather than seeking policy coordination on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect. To the extent that it uses coercive language, it is diplomatically unacceptable.

 

  1. Agree to all the demands within 10 days Agree to all the demands within 10 daysof it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

Such an ultimatum is an unlawful challenge to the sovereign rights of Qatar and a serious breach of diplomatic protocol in relations between sovereign states, accentuated by common membership in the GCC. There is no rationale or justification given for this kind of hegemonic language or attempted control of Qatar’s lawful and discretionary policies and practices. Although rendered invalid by its language if not accepted within ten days, its renewed assertion by the Coalition makes Demand (13) incoherent, and of ambiguous relevance to efforts to resolve the Gulf Crisis.

 

Conclusion:

The analysis and appraisal of the 13 Demands from the perspective of international law and diplomatic protocol reaches the conclusion that not one of the demands is reasonable, in accord with respect for the sovereignty of Qatar, and respectful of the proper canons of diplomacy governing relations among sovereign states that are based on equality and mutual respect. In summary, the 13 Demands are incompatible with the principles set forth in GA Res. 2625, referenced above, that sets forth the principles for lawful and friendly relations among sovereign states, as well as with Article 2 of the UN Charter. Take as a whole, the demands seem so incompatible with respect for Qatar as a sovereign state as to appear intended to isolate the country or even create an atmosphere that prepared the way for regime-changing coup. Such a scenario, even if not executed, is incompatible with international law and the norms of friendly relations among states, especially, as here, among aligned states.

It might be useful at some point to make public use of this point-by- point analysis of the 13 Demands to underscore Qatar’s strong and unassailable position in refusing to accede to these demands. The fact that the Coalition has recently affirmed their insistence that Qatar accept the 13 Demands as the precondition for resolving the Gulf Crisis suggests the importance of a convincing set of explanations for Qatar’s refusal to respond favorable to the 13 Demands either singly or collectively.

This seeming effort to compel Qatar to except external pressures, including a demand of compliance with U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran sets a precedent that could work against the sovereignty of other GCC members in the future. The diplomatic posture with respect to Qatar seems t0 assert a collective right of GCC members to intervene in internal affairs of another member to a far greater extent that present supernational actors have ever in the past claimed.

It seems doubtful that the 13 Demands have any constructive role to play in a diplomacy of reconciliation among Gulf countries. Indeed, it would seem that a necessary first step toward the initiation of a diplomacy of reconciliation would be for the Coalition to abandon any further reference to the 13 Demands as possessing any relevance whatsoever in shaping future relations between Qatar and the GCC and Coalition.

*****************************************************************

 

Annex: The 13 Demands

  1. Curb diplomatic ties with Iranand close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
  2. Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
  3. Shut down al-Jazeeraand its affiliate stations.
  4. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
  5. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presencein Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
  6. Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terroristsby Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.
  7. Hand over “terrorist figures”and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
  8. End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
  9. Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
  10. Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policiesin recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
  11. Consent to monthly audits for the first yearafter agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
  12. Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
  13. Agree to all the demands within 10 daysof it being Agree to all the demands within 10 daysof it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Gulf countries, in addition to Saudi Arabia, were the UAE and Bahrain; the fourth member of the Coalition was Egypt. This group of four is referred to as ‘the Coalition’ in this text.

Interrogating the Qatar Rift

7 Jun

 

The abrupt announcement that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE, Yemen, the Maldive Islands, and the eastern government in divided Libya have broken all economic and political ties with Qatar has given rise to a tsunami of conjecture, wild speculation, and most of all, to wishful thinking and doomsday worries. There is also a veil of confusion arising from mystifying reports that hackers with alleged Russian connections placed a fake news story that implicated Qatar in the promotion of extremist groups in the region. Given Russian alignments, it makes no sense to create conditions that increase the credibility of anti-Iran forces. And finally the timing and nature of the terrorist suicide attacks of June 7th on the Iranian Parliament and on the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini adds a particularly mystifying twist to the rapidly unfolding Qatar drama, especially if the ISIS claim of responsibility is substantiated.

 

Four preliminary cautionary observations seem apt: (1) the public explanation given for this rupture is almost certainly disconnected from its true meaning. That is, the break with Qatar is not about strengthening the anti-ISIS, anti-extremist coalition of Arab forces. Such an explanation may play well in the Trump White House, but it is far removed from understanding why this potentially menacing anti-Qatar regional earthquake erupted at this time, and what it is truly about. (2) Any claim to provide a clear account of why? And why now? should be viewed with great skepticism, if not suspicion. There are in the regional context too many actors, crosscurrents, uncertainties, conflicts, mixed and hidden motives and contradictions at play as to make any effort at this stage to give a reliable and coherent account of this Qatar crisis bound to be misleading.

 

(3) Yet despite these caveats, there are several mainly unspoken dimensions of the crisis that can be brought to the surface, and sophisticate our understanding beyond the various self-serving polemical interpretations that are being put forward, including the centrality of Israeli-American backing for a tough line on Iran and the realization that Gulf grievances against Qatar have been brewing for recent years for reasons unrelated to ISIS, and led to an earlier milder confrontation in 2014 that was then quickly overcome with the help of American diplomacy.

 

And (4) The anti-Iran fervor only makes sense from the perspective of the Gulf monarchies (other than Qatar) and Israel, but seems radically inconsistent with American regional interests and counter-ISIS priorities—Iran is not associated with any of the terrorist incidents occurring in Europe and the United States, and ISIS and Iran are pitted against each other on sectarian grounds. Intriguingly, neither Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), nor Israel, that is, the principal antagonists of Qatar, have been ever targeted by ISIS.

 

The main contention of the anti-Qatar Arab governments, led by Saudi Arabia, is that this coordinated diplomatic pushback is motivated by anti-terrorist priorities. On its face this seems to be a ridiculous claim to come from the Saudis, and can only make some sense as part of a calculated effort to throw pursuing dogs in the hunt for ISIS off a course that if followed would inevitably implicate the Riyadh government. It has long been known by intelligence services and academic experts that it is Saudi Arabia, including members of its royal family, that have been funding Jihadi extremism in the Middle East and has for many years been spending billions to spread Salifist extremism throughout the Islamic world.

 

By comparison, although far from innocent or consistent of terrorist linkages, as well as being internally oppressive, especially toward its migrant foreign workers, Qatar is a minor player in this high stakes political imbroglio. For the Saudis to take the lead in this crusade against Qatar may play well in Washington, Tel Aviv, and London, but fools few in the region. Trump has with characteristic ill-informed bravado has taken ill-advised credit for this turn against Qatar, claiming it to be an immediate payoff of his recent visit to the Kingdom, ramping up still further the provocative buildup of pressure on Iran. To claim a political victory given the circumstances rather than admit a geopolitical faux pas might seem strange for any leader other than Trump. It is almost perverse considering that the al-Udeid Air Base is in Qatar, which is the largest American military facility in the Middle East, operated as a regional command center actively used in bombing raids against Iraq and Afghanistan, and serviced by upwards of 10,000 American military personnel.

 

Netanyahu warmongers will certainly be cheered by this course of events and Israel has not hidden its support for the anti-Qatar moves of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It achieves two Israeli goals: its longtime undertaken to encourage splits and disorder in the Arab world and its campaign to maximize pressures on Iran.

 

Interestingly, Jeremy Corbyn at the start of the week when the momentous British elections are scheduled to take place, called on Teresa May to release a report (prepared while David Cameron was prime minister), supposedly an explosive exposure of Saudi funding and support for Islamic extremism in the Middle East. All in all, a first approximation of the Qatar crisis is to view it as a desperate move by Riyadh to get off the hot seat with respect to its own major responsibility for the origins and buildup of political extremism in the Middle East, which has indirectly produced the inflaming incidents in principal European cities during the last several years. Such a move to isolate and punish Qatar was emboldened by the blundering encouragement of Donald Trump, whether acting on impulse or at the beckoning of Israel’s and Saudi leaders, confusing genuine counter-terrorist priorities with a dysfunctional effort to push Iran against the wall. Trump seems to forget, if he ever knew, that Iran is fighting against ISIS in Syria, has strongly reaffirmed moderate leadership in its recent presidential elections, and if Iran were brought in from the cold could be a major calming influence in the region. True, Iran has given support to Hezbollah and Hamas, but except in Syria not with much effect, and on a scale far smaller than what other actors in the region have been doing to maintain their control and push their agendas. In effect, if Washington pursued national interests in the spirit of political realism, it would regard Iran as a potential ally, and put a large question mark next to its two distorting ‘special relationships,’ with Saudi Arabia and Israel. In effect, reverse its regional alignments in a way that could replace turmoil with stability, but this is not about to happen. The American media, and thoughtful citizens, should at least be wondering ‘why?’ rather than staring into darkness of a starless nighttime sky.

 

But this is not all. The Saudis, along with the UAE and Egypt, have long resented and maybe feared the early willingness of Qatar to give some sanctuary and aid and comfort to various elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. It is hardly farfetched to assume that Israel is outraged by the Emir of Qatar’s friendship and earlier support for the Hamas exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal. Saudi Arabia strives to obscure its incoherent approach to political Islam. It loudly proclaims Sunni identity when intervening in Syria, waging war in Yemen, and calling for confrontation with Iran, while totally repudiating its sectarian identity when dealing with societally or democratically oriented Islamic movements in neighboring countries. Such an anti-democratiing orientation was dramatically present when Riyadh and Abu Dhabi scolded Washington for abandoning Mubarak’s harsh authoritarian secular rule in Egypt back in 2011 and then welcoming the anti-Morsi coup led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi two years later, even welcoming its bloody suppression of Sunni adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood. As has been long obvious to close and honest observers of the Kingdom, the Saudi monarchy has become so fearful of an internal uprising challenging its oppressive rule that it will oppose any liberalizing or democratizing challenge anywhere in its neighborhood. The Kingdom is particularly wary of its Shia minority that happens to be concentrated in locations near where the main Saudi oil fields are located. Similar concerns also help explain why Bahrain behaves as it does as it also fearful of a domestic Shia led majority opposition, which has made it a strategically dependent, yet ardent, adherent of the anti-Qatar coalition.

 

Also far more relevant than acknowledged is the presence of Al Jazeera in Doha, which at various times has voiced support for the Arab Uprisings of 2011, criticism of the Israeli practices and policies toward the Palestinians, and provided an Arabic media source of relatively independent news coverage throughout the region. Qatar is guilty of other irritants of the dominant Gulf political sensibility. It has arranged academic positions for such prominent Palestinian dissidents as Azmi Bashara and more than its neighbors has given welcome to intellectual refugees from Arab countries, especially Egypt. Given the way the Gulf rulers close off all political space within their borders it is to be expected that they find the relative openness of Qatar a threat as well as consider it to be a negative judgment passed on their style of governance.

 

Qatar is very vulnerable to pressure, but also has certain strengths. Its population of 2.5 million (only 200,000 of whom are citizens), imports at least 40% of its food across the Saudi border, now closed to the 600-800 daily truck traffic. Not surprisingly, this sudden closure has sparked panic among Qataris, who are reportedly stockpiling food and cash. The Doha stock market dropped over 7% on the first day after the Gulf break was announced. Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, and is a major source of Turkish investment capital. Western Europe is wary of this American project to establish an ‘Arab NATO,’ and sees it as one more manifestation of Trump’s dysfunctional and mindless impact on world order.

 

What this portends for the future remains is highly uncertain. Some look upon these moves against Qatar as a tempest in a teapot that will disappear almost as quickly as it emerged. The U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and the Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, have urged mediation and offered reassuring comments about anti-ISIS unity remaining unimpaired. It is true that the existence of the Udeid Air Base in Qatar may in time dilute deference to the Saudi-led desire to squeeze the government in Doha, possibly to the point of its collapse. A more fearsome scenario is that the Trump encouraged confrontation sets the stage for a coup in Qatar that will be quickly supported by Washington as soon as Riyadh gives the green light, and will be promoted as part of the regional buildup against Iran. The notorious ceremony in which King Salmon, Trump, and Sisi were pictured standing above that glowing orb with their arms outstretched can only be reasonably interpreted as a pledge of solidarity among dark forces of intervention. Many of us supposed that George W. Bush’s policy of ‘democracy promotion’ that provided part of the rationale for the disastrous 2003 attack on Iraq was the low point in American foreign policy in the Middle East, but Trump is already proving us wrong.

 

While this kind of ‘great game’ is being played at Qatar’s expense in the Gulf, it is highly unlikely that other major players, especially Iran, Russia, and Turkey will remain passive observers, especially if the crisis lingers or deepens. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Mohammed Zarif, has non-aggressively tweeted to the effect that “neighbors are permanent; geography can’t be changed,” stating his view that the occasion calls for dialogue, not coercion. If the isolation of Qatar is not quickly ended, it is likely that Iran will start making food available and shipping other supplies to this beleaguered tiny peninsular country whose sovereignty is being so deeply threatened.

 

Russia, has been long collaborating with Iran in Syria, will likely move toward greater solidarity with Tehran, creating a highly unstable balance of power in the Middle East with frightening risks of escalation and miscalculation. Russia will also take advantage of the diplomatic opportunity to tell the world that the U.S. is seeking to raise war fevers and cause havoc by championing aggressive moves that further the ambitions of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. Such Russian diplomacy is likely to play well in Europe where Trump’s recent demeaning words in Brussels to NATO members made the leading governments rethink their security policies, and to view the United States as an increasingly destabilizing force on the global stage, such feeling being reinforced by the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

 

Turkey seems to believe that its immediate effort should be similar to that of the Tillerson and Mattis approach, having tentatively offered to mediate, and advocates finding a way back to a posture of at least peaceful co-existence between Qatar, the Gulf, and the rest of the Arab world. Turkey has had a positive relationship with Qatar, which includes a small Turkish military facility and large Qatari investments in the Turkish economy.

 

To cool things down, the Foreign Minister of Qatar, Sheik Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, while denying the allegations, has also joined in the call for mediation and even reconciliation. Bowing to Gulf pressures, Qatar has prior to the current crisis withdrawn its welcome from Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood exiles, and seems poised to yield further to the pressures of the moment, given its small size, political vulnerability, and intimations of possible societal panic.

 

While the civilian population of Yemen is faced with imminent famine as an intended consequence of the Saudi intervention, the Saudis seems to be again using food as a weapon, this time to compel Qatar to submit to its regional priorities and become a GCC team player with respect to Iran—joining in the preparation of a sectarian war against Iran while maintaining a repressive hold over political activity at home. One preliminary takeaway is that ISIS dimension is serving as a smokescreen to draw attention away from a far more controversial agenda. The Saudis are deeply implicated in political extremism throughout the region, having likely paid heavily for being treated, temporarily at least, as off limits for Jihadi extremism. Qatar, too is tainted, but mainly by being a minor operative in Syrian violence and in 2015 paying ISIS an amount rumored to be as high as $1 billion to obtain the release of 26 Qataris, including members of the royal family, taken hostage while on a falcon hunting party, of all things, in Iraq. We can gain some glimmers of understanding of what is motivating these Arab governments to act against Qatar, but little sympathy. In comparison, the new U.S. foreign policy in the region defies any understanding beyond its adoption of a cynical and unworkable geopolitical stance, which certainly does not engender any sympathy from the victimized peoples of the region, but rather fear and loathing.