In an interview with Muslim Press, political commentator Robert Carter said, “The Qatar blockade is less to do about Qatar’s Al Jazeera media empire or its national sovereignty, and more to do about its willingness to do business with the Iranians despite Saudi Arabia’s determination to fully isolate Iran and lobby for its complete destruction.”
Here’s the full transcript of the interview:
Muslim Press: What are the motives behind Saudi Arabia’s decision to “punish” Qatar?
Robert Carter: The Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC, alliance of six Gulf Arab states has always been portrayed to be this perfectly united coalition of Sunni Arab brothers standing together to empower the Gulf Kingdoms, form a unified direction to achieve positive ambitions and generally to provide a sanctum of sanctuary for the elites to hold onto and grow their wealth and power. However, in recent years, the GCC has prioritised its efforts to protecting the Sunni world from Shia Iranian encroachment and to ‘fight terrorism’ – at least that is what they would like you to believe.
In reality, the GCC is a heavily divided body made up of greedy despotic Kingdoms, with two rival Kings – both with bottomless bags of cash – tussling for economic power over the rest of the Sunni Muslim world. Qatar has a long history of challenging Saudi supremacy which goes back to the founding days of the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt. In recent years, Qatar seeking to capitalise on rapid political changes, sparked by the Arab spring of 2010-2011, through its support behind the Morsi & the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, the anti-Assad rebels in Syria and has backed the Libyan Dawn party (another Muslim brotherhood offshoot) in Libya’s civil war while Saudi, Egypt & the UAE back the Libyan Dignity party. Although, it is true that Qatar has sided with Saudi Arabia on most foreign policy issues, Qatar has a unique viewpoint and a personal agenda for regional ambitions, something that Saudi Arabia clearly finds frustrating and concerning.
Qatar has backed Saudi’s war in Yemen, deploying troops to assist in the botched up invasion; an action even Egypt’s military President, el-Sisi, refused to do but Qatar also has kept a low key relationship with Iran – a relationship which also includes covert connection between Qatar and Assad’s government in Syria. This relationship was what allowed Qatar to assist in a number of prisoner releases over the past few years including the release of Lebanese soldiers held by Syrian militants, Qatari royals held by Iraqi militants and other civilian kidnappings in Syria. This relationship between Qatar & Iran has been seen by the passionately anti-Iran Saudi’s as a blatant act of disregard to their authority, a slap in the face of the newly appointed Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman.
The Qatar blockade is less to do about Qatar’s Al Jazeera media empire or its national sovereignty, and more to do about its willingness to do business with the Iranians despite Saudi Arabia’s determination to fully isolate Iran and lobby for its complete destruction. Qatar is guilty of many great wrongdoings including a sectarian foreign policy but even Qatar’s behaviour is incomparable to Saudi Arabia’s contemptible barefaced anti-Shia bile and its utterly racist policy towards Persian Iran that it has built its entire regional foreign policy on. Qatar is more pragmatic than Saudi Arabia and it is down to this reason alone that Saudi feels the need to escalate against Qatar to such a ludicrous level that it has created the current scenario which achieves nothing, wastes time and resources for all GCC member states and risks destroying the very organisation the US helped create – The GCC was mothered by the US but, under Trump’s leadership, may be laid to rest.
MP: What’s your take on Riyadh’s demands list?
Robert Carter: The list is a heavy hand played by a young Crown Prince who has already proven himself to be a stubborn hot-head who possess virtually no political finesse or intellectual creativity for the post he has, surely, self-acquired through Arab tribal bully tactics – forcing the former Crown Prince – the once described ‘rising star’ of the Saudi royal family - to accept his undignified abdication while his father, the King, drifts deeper into a state of redundancy (due to his age and the rumoured Alzheimer’s diagnosis).
The demands are purposefully crippling and unsignifying with the aim of forcing Qatar to publicly submit or de-emasculate itself in the face of Saudi authority. Something which Qatar has no intention of doing.
The problem is not whether Qatar will accept the demands or not, clearly they won’t, sacrificing their media empire or downgrading Turkish or US military presence on Qatari soil is never going to be accepted as Qatar knows very well that they lack the military capacity to stop Saudi from forcing its military to seize control of the entire nation in one afternoon, if they should so wish and in a Saudi-Qatar standoff, Qatar has little clout to deploy except its media mechanism. The crisis is aimed at stripping away Qatar’s ability to undermine a new Saudi regime led by Crown Prince Bin Salman. Riyadh wants to see Qatar fall back in line with the rest of the daft and submissive GCC states and to stop Qatar from becoming a rock on which a rival Sunni regional coalition can once again form.
Qatar & Turkey are both wealthy, powerful Sunni nations which wield a sizeable amount of military and political clout, when combined forms a formidable partnership – Qatar’s money and Turkey’s military could easily replace Saudi’s position as leader of the Sunni block. Qatar and Turkey also share one similarity between them that Saudi could never find time to compromise over, both Turkey and Qatar are willing to deal with Iran and have in recent years negotiated deal with Iran on how to manage Syria, Iraq and the regional divide of soft proxy influence. Saudi’s heavy handed actions are a pre-emptive move to curb Qatar’s independence and to force Qatar to distance itself from a post-sanctions Iran.
MP: Could the row lead to expansion of relations between Iran and Qatar?
Robert Carter: Yes and no. Qatar has stood by its current position towards Iran, best reflected by Qatar’s foreign minister’s statements said last Wednesday that his country needed to have a healthy and constructive relationship with Iran; although Iran has benefitted greatly from the recent spat between Qatar & Saudi, but any hopeful ideas that the Iran camp may have of Qatar becoming the newest member of the ‘resistance axis’ would be folly. Qatar is still a Gulf Kingdom with a foreign policy which categorises the region on sectarian lines. Qatar has joined past efforts by Saudi to embargo Iran and is still backing rival groups to Iran in Syria, if given a choice, Qatar would easily choose friendlier relations with the Salafi Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the Shia theocratic republic of Iran, despite the fact that Saudi is a rampant bully, even towards its ‘Arab brothers’.
Iran can use this situation to enjoy a period of stability while its regional adversary’s squabble among themselves. The whole ordeal has left Qatar shaken and Saudi looking foolish, Iran has taken a moral high ground by sympathising with Qatar and sending millions of dollars’ worth of supplies and has gifted Qatar a vital lifeline to save the country from a complete siege by allowing all air traffic to and from Qatar to pass through Iranian airspace. As it stands, Iran is earning what could turn into a sizeable sum of money, as Qatar is being billed for Iranian services, not to mention, the diversion of attention of both the US administration and world media away from the typical anti-Iran narrative towards the Gulf crisis narrative.
Iran’s president Rouhani was right to openly voice his support for Qatar, it certainly serves Saudi Arabia right to learn that stupid rash actions don’t achieve anything but the relationship between Qatar and Iran has never been much more than skin deep business ties that can easily be disregarded if a better opportunity occurs.
I can see the GCC crisis playing out for a considerable length of time and while the US Sunni allies occupy their attentions, Iran can enjoy a period of relative calm, using this opportunity to sign new trade deal, reform its economy and facilitate an expansion of Qatar – Iran economic ties.
MP: How do you see the role Trump played in this conflict?
Robert Carter: Trump’s role is quite irrelevant on a personal level. He is clearly very ignorant when it comes to Middle Eastern history or geopolitics; he has consistently contradicted, practically, his entire administration with his views and tweets condemning Qatar and has certainly contradicted himself with his new found fondness of Saudi Arabia. The US has made clear it wishes to see this conflict in the Gulf de-escalate, and fast, but Trump seems to follow the Saudi line that Qatar is a backer of terrorism, needing to change before a reconciliation.
The Gulf represents what is left of American hegemony in the Arab world. Russia has cemented a presence in the region that directly challenges the USA’s political domination over the Middle East; for the GCC to fall apart, due to petty greed and tribal differences, is an embarrassment for the US and risks the further loss of American influence and leverage in a strategically vital part of the world.
The US is still trying to figure out what its policy for the region will be in the long run. Trump’s term in office is still in its early stages and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has already admitted that the White House is still planning what direction it will take in regards to the region. This unprecedented frenzied exchange between the biggest Gulf powers will add to the woes of the White House, further complicating an already complex region. All we can do as analysts is sit back and predict what direction the US will take – will Trump’s admin choose an indirect policy through proxy support or will we see a more escalatory foreign policy which involves more American troop deployment? We will have to see.
MP: How would this conflict affect the region?
Robert Carter: The region will not change drastically in the short term, however, this crisis is not likely to end any time soon either. I can see the conflict raging on as Qatar sticks to its guns and refuses to bow down to Saudi’s totally unreasonable demands. Qatar is wealthy enough to withstand the long-term effects of the blockade and has a long list of powerful allies it can call upon for aid, including the USA, Turkey and China, just to name a few.
Iran has made its position clear, that it will toss any support Qatar needs across the Persian Gulf – if requested to do so. Saudi, as well, is refusing to downgrade the pressure on Qatar and only sees red when it comes to Qatar’s insubordinate attitude and willingness to talk to the Shia & to the Iranians. Without a doubt, both the Qatar crisis and the (far more genuine) crisis in Yemen are down to the leadership of the current Crown Prince Bin Salman. He has already demonstrated that he is the type of man who - once he makes a decision – sticks to it, regardless of whether the plan is a flawless failure. Saudi has lost countless millions as a result of the ill-conceived plan to invade Yemen, and after close to three years of fighting, Saudi’s forces are still no closer to capturing any of the three major cities or including the capital Sana’a, yet, Saudi’s coalition continue to persist.
One scenario that Qatar is certainly very fearful of, is the possibility that Saudi Arabia may insist that its own forces enter Qatar as a means of ‘stabilizing the situation’. This is a course of action which Saudi has done before when Bahrain looked like falling to anti-Saudi elements following the 2011 Arab spring. It would explain why Saudi Arabia has been very keen for Turkey to move its forces out of Qatar, including this demand in the list handed over to Qatar via Kuwait, and would equally explain why Qatar has been so egger to rent its space out to both Turkey and US military forces to protect itself. According to Robert Fisk, a renowned British born Middle East correspondent, when he asked the former Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani “why he didn’t kick the Americans out of Qatar”, he replied: “Because if I did, my Arab brothers would invade me.” - clearly it was not the dastardly Shia Iranians who are seen as the real threat by the small Sunni Arab nation of Qatar, but their ‘Sunni Arab brothers’ in the Gulf. This could be the only possible scenario which would cause a massive chain of events which could lead to a more significant regional escalation.
For now, Qatar will cosy up to Iran in order to upset the Saudi’s and has increased its oil production to damage American oil companies’ profits. Anyone in Washington with any scenes is beginning to become quite frustrated with Saudi’s childish attitude but, let’s remember, they have their own childish leader to cope with – Mr Trump.
Robert Carter is an English journalist and political commentator based in London, UK. Robert, who also goes by his Muslim name, Muhammad Ali Carter, specialises on Middle Eastern culture, politics and history as well as the current affairs of the global Muslim world. Robert has visited the region many times with a focus on Lebanon, Iran, Bahrain & Yemen. Robert currently works with Ahlulbayt TV as a TV news presenter but has also contributed for Iraq Insider, Veterans Today, Shafaqna, & Press TV.