◆ Brief background on Qatar
Until recently, Qatar has managed to play a complex role in the Gulf as a small, very rich, Sunni-Arab sheikdom, with a citizen population of just 250,000-300,000 plus some two million “ex-pats” (the majority workers from South Asia on term contracts).
Qatar, ruled by its monarchy, has until recently managed to navigate in such a way that it worked both sides of the geopolitical street.
Between Two Worlds, Playing a Double Game
◆ On the one hand it takes part in the modern, Western-oriented, liberal world order.
It hosts a vast U.S. airbase and related anti-terrorism facilities.
It has created and funded Education City, an enclave for a half-dozen major American universities.
Its national airline, Qatar Airways, has become one of the Gulf giants, challenging the legacy carriers of the US and Europe.
And it continues to export vast quantities of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from its huge reserves — the largest of which it shares with Iran.
◆ On the other hand, it
- Has long supported the Muslim Brotherhood, which other Sunni regimes see as a threat.
- Maintains very close working relations with Iran.
- Is widely alleged to be the source of funding for terrorism.
- Hosts and funds Al-Jazeera, whose programming Egypt and Saudi Arabia see as a threat, and
- Hosts Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a highly-influential militant Muslim scholar whose program on Al-Jazeera has a wide audience throughout the region, and who has justified suicide terrorism (“heroic martyrdom operations”), and justified domestic violence against women as well as female genital mutilation.
For more on Sheikh Yush Al-Qaradawi, see this profile at the Investigative Project (link here).
Why Are the Saudis, Egyptians, and Emirates taking on Qatar now?
◆ In an increasingly fraught Middle East, with Iran increasingly seen as the predominant regional threat, Qatar’s big neighbor, Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, and other Sunni states now have found this an opportune time to rein in their troublesome Gulf neighbor.
◆ Additional Readings, setting the Qatar Crisis in the context
Eran Lerman’s essay (link here) provides an incisive treatment of this issue. It is up-to-date and deeply-informed. (BESA, the Begin-Sadat Institute, Bar-Ilan University, Israel)
The Qataris have been playing a dangerous game for years. They have provocatively supported the Muslim Brotherhood and actively promoted the destabilization of existing regimes, using huge sums of money as well as the pernicious influence of Al Jazeera TV. The dramatic steps taken against them over the past few days are thus hardly surprising, but they shed some light on the present stage in the struggle for regional hegemony. –Eran Lerman
◆ Yaakov Amidror writes a complementary essay (link here, also at BESA) arguing the Qatar crisis is a sign of weakness in the Sunni Arab world.
The fact that the Sunni Arab world was unable to impose its basic approach on a small peninsular emirate is indicative of the deep crisis brewing in the Gulf over the lack of real leadership in the Sunni world.
Sunnis are the vast majority in the Muslim world, making up some 85% of Muslims – and yet somehow, the Iran-led Shiite minority is the driving force behind the processes moving the Middle East. –Yaakov Amidror
◆ Michael Rubin, writing at Commentary, urges the US to “Support the Anti-Qatari Coalition: A Long-Overdue Epiphany on Terrorism”
The simple fact is that Qatar supports destablizing, radical movements across the region. –Michael Rubin
Robert Lieber, a professor at Georgetown, is one of the country’s leading analysts of US foreign policy, with special interests in the Middle East, Europe, and energy.
His most recent book is Retreat and Its Consequences: American Foreign Policy and the Problem of World Order (Cambridge University Press).