Since US President Donald Trump delivered an iconic speech at Riyadh’s US-Arab-Islamic Summit earlier this year, a new political crisis has begun to develop. A crisis which will reshape the region permanently, bringing extensive geopolitical implications.
On June 5, tensions between Qatar and neighbouring states escalated to dangerous levels, resulting in the withdrawal of ambassadors, and embargos on trading and travelling. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), headquartered in Saudi Arabia, has often criticised the nation for maintaining a cordial relationship with Iran (the GCC’s main rival), and alleges that its government supports terror organisations both financially and ideologically.
This sparked a crisis within Qatar, especially for Qatari pilgrims performing the Hajj in Mecca. Thousands flocked to supermarkets as trade sanctions were placed on Qatar, limiting its supply of food and medication. Iran has been supplying Qatar with necessary imports, however, Iran’s intentions have not been made clear. Iran Air spokesman Shahrokh Noushabadi contended ‘We will continue deliveries as long as there is demand', but did not mention whether these deliveries were exports or aid.
According to Saudi Arabia’s state news agency, the actions were in response to Qatar’s ‘embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region’ - an allegation the Qatari government strongly denies. Even President Trump has taken to Twitter to point his finger at Qatar.
One event which ignited the crisis was Qatar’s state news agency posting of pro-Iran and pro-Hezbollah statements attributed to Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The foreign ministry denied the validity of those statements and claimed the news agency was hacked - a claim the FBI has supported by pinning blame on freelance Russian hackers.
Qatar is the largest exporter of liquified natural gas, and shares the world’s largest gas field with Iran – something else which ties the two countries close together. This is significant because most Gulf states are largely dependent on petroleum exports and do not have diversified economies. Natural gas is set to be the preferred energy source of the future. Consequently, this puts both Qatar and Iran in a different league to the GCC – their influence in the region will expand phenomenally in the coming decades.
Ultimately, this isolates Qatar from its Arab neighbours. They will surely have conflicting opinions on many policy decisions, especially with regards to the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Additionally, Qatar was a voice for revolutionaries during the Arab Spring, with many Islamists winning key elections in Morocco and Egypt.
Qatar’s role in inciting turmoil throughout the region has permanently damaged its standing with countries that survived the waves of civil disobedience, namely Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Jordan.
The Gulf nations have produced a list of thirteen demands and have given Qatar ten days to comply with them if they wish to have the blockade lifted. The key demands include the shutdown of Al Jazeera, ending relationships with Iran, cutting ties to terror organisations, and closing a Turkish military base. Turkey has, however, rejected the call to shut down its military base, meanwhile Qatar wants the blockade lifted before any negotiations begin.
What is this crisis leading to? The demise of the West’s influence across the world.
Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar are US allies and are a part of the ‘Free World’, yet the threats of war are evidence of the US' inability to control its chess pieces.
Whilst the present conflict has come as a shock to many throughout the Muslim and Arab world, especially during the month of Ramadan, it is not the only ‘Free World’ conflict which the US has been unable to contain…
The US has referred to Turkey as ‘a trusted ally’, yet Turkey’s constant clashes with the EU and NATO have shown otherwise. The failures of the TPP and TTIP are further evidence of the US’ growing weakness. Nonetheless, the fact that the country is instigating conflicts amongst its Gulf allies suggests that it is remodelling its foreign policy – now taking a ‘divide and rule’ approach.
This will backfire on the US. The last time they used this approach, organisations such as ISIL propped up and threw a curtain of terror across the Middle East and the rest of the world. As the old Arabic proverb goes, ‘One who cooks poison tastes it'.