By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh
9 March 2014
Tiny Qatar has always liked to be different. And its immense wealth, which comes from its deposits of natural gas, has given it the courage to continue being different and not depend on anyone economically. But now its strong and continued support of the Muslim Brotherhood caused a break with its neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced on March 5 that they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Doha in protest against the fact that Qatar has not implemented a security agreement signed on Nov. 23 last year.
In this agreement, that Qatar signed along with five other members of the GCC, all adhered to a commitment to the principles that guarantee non-interference in the internal affairs of any of the member countries, both directly or indirectly. The agreement also pledged all members not to support any activity that may threaten the safety and stability of any of the GCC countries, organizations or individuals, including support for hostile media.
Although such a commitment to non-interference in the internal affairs of other members of the GCC was made, Qatar has allowed Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi — the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has lived in the country for years and is close to the royal family — to attack the UAE and Saudi Arabia for their support of the Egyptian military regime. The government of Qatar gave several billion dollars in economic aid to Egypt when Mursi, a leader of the Brotherhood, won elections and governed for a year.
The Emirati commentator Sultan Al-Qassemi told me in a phone interview that he does not think the Qataris will abandon the Brotherhood, but that several economic projects involving Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the Emirates would be delayed because of this diplomatic rupture.
“This reprimand was very public, unlike traditional Gulf reprimands, which are usually done in private, behind the scenes,” said Al-Qassemi.
A victim of the latest tensions will likely be the new airline company, owned by Qatar Airways, which was supposed to launch domestic flights in Saudi Arabia by the end of this year after the Saudi government decided to open the domestic travel market to foreign companies. And as these tensions have been felt for several years, the UAE were already decreasing its imports of natural gas from Qatar, Al-Qassemi said.
Despite these strategic differences, I do not think the GCC will have a dramatic break because of Qatar. The only land border that Qatar has is with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and its location and huge deposits of natural gas are too important to be excluded from the union. But Al-Qassemi told me that a new union within the GCC would probably now exclude Qatar.
The government of Qatar in a statement said it was surprised and regretted that the three ambassadors of fraternal countries had been called back to their capitals, stressing that such measures had nothing to do with the interests, security or stability of the peoples of the GCC but was actually a difference in positions on issues outside the GCC.
It is unfortunate that Qatar allows Qaradawi to attack its neighbours. That does not help calm tensions in the Gulf and the Arab world in general, which is experiencing the aftershocks of the revolutions of the Arab Spring, which saw dictators being toppled from Libya to Tunisia to Egypt. Maybe Qatar believes it can survive solely with its billions in revenue from its sales of gas, but it would do well to remember that it is in an explosive region, and should try to calm tensions with its neighbours, instead of adding fuel to fire. One hopes fervently that Qatar is not ready to sacrifice its Gulf allies for its support to the Brotherhood.