Within days after the US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Gulf monarchies the rift among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members has only become nastier. Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen & the Libyan interim government have cut ties with Qatar. Only Kuwait & Oman still continue to maintain relations. What’s intriguing is the almost reactionary response against Qatar by its neighbors. Let’s try dissecting this new fault-line in the Middle-East.
Post the Islamic Revolution in Iran (1979) that saw the overthrow of Shah Pahelvi , Middle-East has been a constant battleground between the oil-rich Sunni Gulf monarchies on one side & Shia Iran with its client –states; Iraq(after the fall of Saddam Hussein), Syria & proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon on the other. The conflicts in Syria & Yemen have both Iran & Saudi Arabia backing opposite factions. Amid this protracted conflict for hegemony between Iran & Saudi Arabia, Qatar is a curious case. Both its geography & economic interests (Qatar shares the world’s largest natural gas field with Iran) mean it can’t easily rescind relations with Iran on the whims of other Gulf monarchies. Its unabashed support for the Muslim Brotherhood & political Islam across the Arab world; both mortal threats to Gulf monarchies are a constant irritant for the Sheikdoms. To add to that, Al Jazeera; Qatar’s state owned global media network allegedly ran pro-Muslim brotherhood stories during the peak of the Arab Spring thus, irking Saudi Arabia & its coterie. Since then, the Gulf monarchies have regularly tried to either coax Qatar or threaten it with dire consequences when that didn’t work.
This time the Gulf monarchies have chosen to up the ante by cutting all diplomatic relations with Qatar following a fake news report planted by hackers on Qatar’s official news agency where Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim’s said to have made comments against renewed tension with Iran & expressed the need to support Hamas & Hezbollah as resistance movements. The news spread like wildfire & in no time Riyadh responded in kind by snapping all relations with the tiny kingdom.
This isn’t the first time that intra-GCC conflict turned ugly. Back in 2014, Saudi, Bahrain & UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar after alleging that it was meddling in their “internal affairs”.
This renewed conflict between the Gulf monarchies is signaling a big political realignment across the Middle-East. With the Turkish strongman Erdogan throwing his lot with Qatar; political Islam that was nearly forced into oblivion following the military crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt may become the fourth power bloc in Middle-East with; GCC, the Shia Crescent & Israel being the other three.
It would be intriguing to see how Turkey’s growing proximity with Russia (an Iranian ally) influences Qatar’s relations with Iran.