A few days ago, a coalition of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia identified Qatar as one of the main sources of instability in the region and as a supporter of terrorist organizations. This was more than rhetoric, as states called back their workers, citizens, and diplomats from Qatar, severing ties with the tiny and rich Gulf State. Qatar was put under siege, deprived of land, naval, and air ways.
This is a dramatic development that received minimal explanations in the media. I think mainstream media focused mostly on the drama rather than on its sources. The explanations that were mentioned provided an incoherent and lacking narrative. The first, argues that the unfolding events are part of an old vengeance that has been simmering for decades and now released when Saudi-Arabia felt more comfortable with it partnership with the US. A second explanation identifies controversial statements posted in Qatari outlets, allegedly false and placed by Russian hackers, as the trigger to the events. A third explanation is the enormous ransom Qatar paid for two blacklisted terrorist organizations to release 27 Qatari royalty captured while hunting in Iraq.
The three narratives are on the verge of orientalist fantasy, yet have not really been challenged by any expert brought on the air.
I would like to suggest a fourth explanation, one based on realpolitiks in the new Middle East geopolitics. For a while now Qatar’s foreign policy was based on flirting with all political actors and forces in the region, trying to hedge its future without really committing to any particular coalition. This policy has been riddled with contradictions. While hosting a US naval base in its territory, Qatar had very close economic ties with Iran. It has also been a Saudi ally while supporting militant groups that objected the Saudi agenda in the region. This strategy created much frustration and critique by the Saudies who recurrently saw Qatar, an alleged friend, actively helping the kingdom’s most bitter rivals.
Encouraged by Trump’s successful visit and the current US policies in the region, Saudi Arabia decided on an aggressive move against Qatar. By pressing Qatar by all means short of military intervention, Saudi Arabia is hoping to coerce Qatar to follow its regional policy and to be integrated into the Suni bloc. Qatar’s rich gas resources as well as it influential broadcast network, Al Jazeera, may increase the Saudi influence in the region and its ability to promote its policy significantly.