MIDDLE EASTOPINIONPOLITICS

Qatar’s two choices

By Khalifa A. Alfadhel

Qatar is in the news because it’s being boycotted by its neighbors for supporting international terrorism. But there’s nothing new about Qatar’s misplaced loyalties abroad or at home. This tiny principality in the Arabian Gulf is infamous in the region as a financier of the rise of intolerant political Islam, which is menacing peace-loving nations around the globe. It has also contributed to the sabotaging of the peace process in the Middle East.

Qatar’s influence derives from its wealth. It controls one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves. The country is ruled by the House of Thani, whose current head and absolute Emir is Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa. But its petroleum-fueled riches have encouraged regular upheavals in leadership in the recent past.

The Qatari royal house has faced numerous palace insurrections. Since 1960, four Emirs were ousted from power in bloodless coups. The most devastating episode was in the mid-1990s when Hamad bin Khalifa, the predecessor of the current Emir, overthrew of his own father, Khalifa, who was popular in the petite peninsula for promoting economic and social reforms.

This thirst for power reflects an instability and Machiavellian approach to politics, which is still reflected in Qatari foreign policy.

Qatar is always reaching out for allies, but often in dangerous places. Its current regime supports a rogues’ gallery of international terror organizations. These include, but is not limited to, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and ISIS.

The Emir and his minions have flouted United Nations’ Security Council Resolution 1373, which called on the family of nations to work together against terrorism in the wake of the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, in the U.S. Qatar has also made a mockery of numerous other international benchmarks as well. Sadly, Qatar has chosen to join Iran, North Korea and other radical juntas in rejecting the international consensus for peace and security.

This string of reckless actions led Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and other nations to boycott Qatar starting in June as a way to compel it to end its behavior. Clearly, the boycott is having an impact. Qatar is loudly complaining on the world stage and is turning up the pressure in places like the U.S. to end the boycott.

But the boycott continues and Qatar must face a limited number of options. The first option would be for Qatar to put even more distance between itself and its Arab brothers, further isolating itself from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula and openly aligning itself with countries that sponsor terrorism. Becoming, in other words, part of the modern-day Axis of Evil.

This, of course, would be a tragedy. Qatar would take a giant step backward if it were to remain tethered to the present-day plague of Iranian fundamentalism or the Muslim Brotherhood as reflected, for example, in the policies of Turkey’s theocratic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. These are the ideologies of the past – sometimes the ancient past – and threaten the modern world.

As an alternative, Qatar could accept the reasonable political demands of its neighbors. This would put it in line not just with the West but would also reflect the aspirations of a majority of the Egyptian-educated Qatari population. Indeed, Emir Tamim and his family should listen to his own people for a change. This would be the wiser – and more peaceful – course.

Qatar shouldn’t remain an outlier in its own neighborhood. The tribal history of Qatar is connected in many ways to – and is, in fact, a natural extension of – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. They all share a long tradition; they should stand together in a common, peace-loving future.

The inflamed, extremist rhetoric of the Al-Jazeera Network and other media outlets based in or sponsored by Qatar should change to reflect the real consensus of this common history. But far more than rhetoric is at stake. The House of Thani’s fragile past should stand as a warning to the ruling elite of Qatar. Nothing short of the survival of the current Emir could rest on which option the government chooses.

President Trump and his State Department should encourage Qatar to make the right choice, to take the option of cooperation with its neighbors and deference to the views of its own people. The alternative is continued chaos in the Middle East and rest of the world.

Khalifa Ali Alfadhel (LLB, LLM, PhD) is a board member in the Bahrain Institute for Political Development and the Bahrain Centre for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (Derasat). He can be reached at: kalfadhel@derasat.org.bh and via Twitter at @kalfadhel 

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