The Saudi-led combine of Sunni-Arab states (including the UAE, Bahrain, Yemen and Egypt) has stunned the international community with its coordinated severing of ties with its fellow GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) member and co-sectarian, Sunni-ruled sheikhdom of Qatar. The timing of the move was surprising, as all nations in the Middle East (irrespective of their deep intra-regional divides) were in the midst of reclaiming vast swathes of land from the principal enemy in the region, Islamic State or Daesh. Undoubtedly, parallel sectarian struggles like the one between the Tehran-led “Shia Crescent” of Iran, Iraq and Syria and its proxies like the Hezbollah and Houthis, were embroiled in a parallel power struggle against the combined forces of Sunni-ruled nations and their sponsored Sunni militias. The international powers in the region like the United States, Russia or Turkey have had their own national or geopolitical agendas that further muddied the waters with their own interventions and alliances. Disentangling the genealogical roots of the unrest in the Middle East is an endless saga of intrigues, complicities and “terror-sponsorships” that can be traced to all regimes in the region ithout exception, as indeed, to the policies, secret agencies and militaries of other regional players (such as Israel and Turkey) and traceable directly to Western capitals. Every nation has blood on their hands and has contributed to the bloody quagmire in the Middle East.
A WikiLeaks email that was purportedly sent from Hillary Clinton to John Podesta reads: “We need to use our diplomatic and more traditionally intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL (Daesh) and other radical Sunni groups in the region”. Indisputably, the rise of extremist militias like “Al-Nusra Front” (also known as “Al-Qaeda in the Levant”), owe its sustenance and fighting abilities to the generous financial doles from Qatar. While initially the Qatari support was more overt and public via various “social” or “religious” charities, international pressure forced it to adopt a more a covert way of facilitating “ransom monies” in exchange for kidnapped prisoners by organisations like Al-Nusra Front. From managing prisoner swaps in Lebanon to the more high-profile release of American writer Peter Theo Curtis (where the mediation was done by Ghanem Khalifa al-Kubaisi, head of Qatar state security), “petro-dollars” and hydrocarbon-fueled coffers have allowed Qatar to pick its own independent choice of regional organisations that it wishes to support, even if the Qatari choice rails against the instincts of its other Arab neighbours, such as Doha openly courting the Palestinian Hamas as opposed to the more Riyadh-friendly PLO, and in Egypt it supports the ousted Muslim Brotherhood.
Similarly, Qatar is hosting Taliban elements to push reconciliation between Taliban, Afghanistan and the US government – though importantly, the move to allow the Taliban to open an “office” in Doha was done after a specific request was made to this effect by the US.
However, the obvious hypocrisy in this latest Arab spat emanates from the supposed Saudi indignation against “terror sponsorship”, that is oblivious to its own role in spreading the extremist and violent strains of puritanical religiosity globally. The released portions of the congressional investigation into the 9/11 terror attack on the United States (in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis) has some discomforting statements that suggest Saudi linkages, such as this reference on Page 415” “While in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support and assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi government… [At least] two of those individuals were alleged by some to be Saudi intelligence officers.” Earlier still, the Saudis had matched the US contributions towards arming and abetting the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980-90s, the progenitors of Osama bin Laden, Taliban and suchlike mutations. The acquiescence of the Western powers in allowing the Al Saud family to infuse Wahhabism as an antidote to the Cold War challenges and energy considerations facilitated the global export of Salafist tendencies that gave birth and inspiration to organisations like ISIS, Boko Haram and the Taliban. Beyond sovereign funding, the concept of raising funds through private individuals and institutions, towards causes that impacted the “ummah” was afforded by the affluence of Saudi society — later, the same energy-related wealth in countries like Qatar allowed a similar fundraising initiative. Today, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia claim to have tightened the screws on private fundraising for terrorist organisations — though the survival of various organisations in the Middle East like Al Nusra, ISIS, Hezbollah or Hamas without sovereign support, directly or indirectly, is hardly plausible. So even if Saudi Arabia is not directly involved in funding terror organisations any longer, its role in creating the infrastructure, ideological framework and societal justifications is undeniable.
Therefore, the Qatar-Saudi spat is a perfect case of the pot calling the kettle black and is more likely due to the fears emanating from the “independent streak” emanating from Doha that threatens the status quo in the Arab world. The Arab monarchies are pathologically petrified of an “Arab Spring” redux, hence the aversion to the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Qatar supports. Further, the convenient illiberality of the region gets threatened by the relative independence of Al Jazeera. The unkindest cut, however, was the unpardonable act of legitimising Iran as an “Islamic power”, forcing the Saudis to accuse Qatar of supporting “Iran-backed terror groups” (even though Qatar deployed over 1,000 troops in Yemen to support the Saudi-led drive against the Iran-supported Houthi rebels).
The unwarranted tilt of US President Donald Trump in the Saudi-Qatar fracas has demonstrated the curse of perpetuating selective truths that ensures the dominance of certain regional and international powers.
Beyond fighting ISIS, local conflicts (such as Turks versus Kurds), sectarian conflicts (Shia-Sunni) and geopolitical conflicts (Russians versus Americans), a fifth internecine dimension of intra-GCC conflict has emerged to diminish the prospects of peace.