Arabia’s Third Block – The case of Qatar and political independence

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SHAFAQNA – The wild child of the GCC countries – Gulf Cooperation Council, Qatar’s taste for independence and one might add propensity to rebel against the asserted geopolitical might of Saudi Arabia has run for decades. Long before Doha was declared a pariah by Riyadh, this one tiny slither of land ambitioned itself free from the diktat of an overbearing wannabe imperial Wahhabist power: Saudi Arabia.

Qatar’s rebellion predates 2011 by several decades … in hindsight Qatar’s ambition to sit itself an independent nation away from the kingdom’s zone of influence could prove the one variable Riyadh’s Wahhabist ideologues did not factor in, and ultimately could precipitate the fall of that empire.

From the very moment Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani deposed his father to become emir of Qatar, the tiny gas-rich emirate’s foreign policy has been built around two guiding principles: differentiating itself from its Gulf neighbours, particularly the regional Arab hegemon Saudi Arabia, and insulating itself from Saudi influence. Needless to say that Qatar’s ability to not exist beyond the kingdom but against was put to the test in a rather dramatic fashion. No longer the friend or even the partner, Qatar was dragged into the mud, thrown under the bus and threatened with military interventionism in just a few short weeks.

To Qatar’s credit though resistance has indeed worked.

For better or for worse Doha has proven capable to stand up to the one power that for decades has blotted the skies of Arabia and bowed great many capitals to its whims.

The devil is in the details they say! In the case of Qatar independence came courtesy of a cunning attention to geopolitical dynamics and a keen understanding of soft powers. True power lies not in brutal force but one’s ability to wield alliances to its cause. Qatar here has proven more effective than the kingdom could ever imagined.

As crown prince, Hamad and his key ally Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani pushed for Qatar to throw off what they saw as the yoke of Saudi dominance in the Gulf, by sitting themselves away from the influence of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Saudi-dominated oil cartel. Rather than rely on pipelines to transport its natural resources and thus plugged into Riyadh’s network, Doha chose the sea to carry its riches away – a move that guaranteed both political and financial independence.

A free agent within the GCC, Qatar spent the past decades building a dizzying fortune – the richest per-capita country in the world, Qatar reinvented itself an economic powerhouse which ability to lean on world powers has been proportional to its investments.

Qatar really sealed its political standing  when it partnered up with Western firms like the Exxon Mobil and Total, thus sealing a strong sense of codependency with those  countries’ senior officials. And then of course one must not ignore Qatar’s overture toward both the United States and Turkey when it agreed to house their military outposts, de facto turning Doha into an asset Washington and Ankara would not dispose of without a fight.

For all of Saudi Arabia’s obsession over Iran, Qatar was the one threat the kingdom never imagined could tear its empire apart. And yet Rome could soon burn under a fire a friend lit up from under its feet

Today, Qatar has not only a high degree of economic independence from its GCC  neighbours but it benefits from powerful friends abroad: mainly the United States and Turkey. Isolated Qatar completely will prove a tenuous task, regardless of how many times the word Terror is being thrown around.

While  no one is under any illusion of what role Qatar has played promoting Wahhabi/Salafi-inspired radicals in the Greater Middle East, few will rebuke at the idea of a compromise for the sake of geopolitics … that and Saudi Arabia already proved a far more insidious and nefarious beast then Qatar could ever be.

A report by the BBC read the obvious when it noted: Qatar stands accused of supporting terrorism and extremism by a triumvirate of Gulf Arab states – Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain – backed by Egypt and others.”

If Qatar is guilty so are those pointing the finger. Terror here is once again being wielded as a political weapon of war to rally a gullible public around the idea that military occupation stands to reason.

Qatar is meant here as a sacrificial lamb. A mean to distract and deflect guilt at a time when Wahhabism/Salafism/Deobandism is being burned at the stake of public opinion. Beyond that, Qatar was set up so that a new platform of war could be raised against Saudi Arabia’s real target: Iran.

It is likely given the ongoing stand-off that Qatar will push against whatever measure or measures Riyadh will come up with to break Doha’s new taste for resistance.  I would say that  Reuters summarized the situation perfectly when it penned: Arab sanctions stir defiance, patriotism in wealthy Qatar.”

Indeed, wealthy Qatar is not about to roll over for the kingdom, not when it sits a third block among dynamics that have so far been binary.

What Qatar lacks in size and political land mass, it makes up in wealth and access. In other words, Qatar is more than what Saudi Arabia could ever chew – militarily speaking or otherwise.

Qatar’s rebellion has set very powerful dynamics into motion, and it is now unlikely we can go back to how things were. However Riyadh will frame its policies moving forward its political reach has been forever diminished.

When the poorest: Yemen and the smallest: Qatar can hold Saudi Arabia’s gaze without faltering how long before other, greater powers realise that in fact the kingdom is already dead?

 

By Catherine Shakdam – This article appeared first on Crescent International

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