Qatar: The Next Singapore, or a Parochial Backwater?

Reading Qatari propaganda is like reading a poorly written children’s conspiracy book: all fiction and no facts. Yet unlike a children’s book, it is entirely devoid of any entertainment value.

In less than a year, Qatar has gone from an active member of the GCC to an isolated entity cut off from all participation in matters of diplomacy, security and trade with its former ally Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf states as well as Egypt. The proximate cause for this rift was what was seen as an attempt at some kind of rapprochement on the part of Qatar with Saudi Arabia’s nemesis, Iran. This was evidenced in a tweet by the Emir of Qatar criticising aspects of the US and Gulf Foreign policy vis-a vis Iran, a tweet which was later deleted and blamed on ‘hackers’. Nevertheless, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar had been brewing for some time now not least due to Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood which is illegal in Saudi Arabia.

Qatar has increasingly shown signs of wanting to break away from Saudi Arabia’s nest and expand its geo-political portfolio. One of the reasons for this is because Qatar has given up on the idea of building a pipe line to Turkey via Syria since such an endeavour would only be possible in a US and Qatari friendly Syria which the Ba’athist government in Syria is not, and never will be. This is the primary reason that Qatar funded Takfiri terrorists to overthrow the government of Assad and transform secular Syria into a free-for-all Wahhabi cesspool. But since Assad is not going anywhere, Qatar has had to be creative, and given that both Qatar and Iran share the same gas field on the Persian Gulf, it would figure why Qatar decided to test the waters in the tweet, however feebly. It is worth mentioning also that Iran has shown signs of cooperation and has stood by Qatar.

As expected, this has not gone down well with Saudi Arabia. The issue now is not whether the KSA and Qatar will resume relations, but where Qatar is headed.

Qatar is doing quite well without the assistance of the GCC. It is trading with Europe, Asia as well as Africa, all of which, with the exception of Africa to an extent, are emotionally and physically removed from the Gulf. However, Qatar could, theoretically gain leverage against its enemy Saudi Arabia and become an important player on the international stage were it to re-consider its options carefully.

So far, Qatar’s biggest ally outside of the Gulf is fellow Muslim Brotherhood sponsor, Turkey. Turkey was the most vocal supporter of Qatar post-boycott, even sending its troops to the Qatari border to stave off a possible Saudi military attack. What’s more, Turkey’s relations with Iran are at an all time high with both countries cooperating on matters of diplomacy, security and trade. Turkey is also a guarantor of the Astana peace process for Syria along with Russia and Iran. However, Unlike Turkey who has shown signs of pragmatism and more or less abandoned the fantasy of removing Assad from power, Qatar remains committed to spewing anti-Assad and anti-Shi’a propaganda.

Qatar, it seems, is confused. On the one hand and despite showing mild signs of a possible détente with Iran, Qatari state-owned media remains committed to its anti-Shi’a propaganda. Al Jazeera continues to slander Iran and Hezbollah Resistance, the former in less abrasive terms while the latter is consistently referred to as ‘Terrorist’ organisation. Ditto Bashar al-Assad, who is consistently demonised.

This does not look good for Qatar who risks alienating Iran amongst other things. While Qatar’s latest proxy war with Saudi Arabia is being fought in East Africa where Qatar supports Sudan and the KSA supports Egypt, East Africa in many ways is an easy battle to pick. The big game is being played in the Northern Block of the Middle East comprising Syria, Iraq, Lebanon as well as the non-Arab states of Iran and Turkey.

Although Turkey will never be a friend of Syria, Turkey has nevertheless become a part of the Northern block that also includes Syria. Yet Turkey, like Qatar, also aided the Muslim Brotherhood in the hope of bringing down the government of Bashar al-Assad. But while Turkey has finally put interests before feelings, will Qatar do the same? That depends on how much leverage Qatar wants to gain against Saudi Arabia. Theoretically, there is nothing stopping Qatar from joining the Northern Alliance except for its Wahhabi ideology. Qatar’s relations with Turkey are excellent and Iran is open to cooperation, while Lebanon and Iraq both maintain normal though relatively unimportant ties with Qatar. The only country which would be averse to working with Qatar would be Syria, and understandably so. The only reason Syria has unofficially agreed to allow Turkey to invade northern Syria is because Turkey is providing a vital service in neutralising the secessionist occupying Kurdish militants in the Syria-Turkey border. But what service could Qatar provide? Nothing Syria needs is the answer.

However, Qatar could improve its standing in the Middle East if it took a few lessons from Singapore and remain neutral in terms of foreign policy, as well as diversify its economy beyond oil and gas, much like the de facto Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Muhammad bin Salman is trying to do for the KSA. But unlike the KSA which has the support of the GCC, Qatar is isolated in its domain, which makes it all the more important for Qatar to look to the North and beyond. The chances of this happening are slim, because unlike Turkey which is an older state and has a history of secularism and a functioning secular party, Qatar is and always has been a Salafist/Wahhabi theocracy since its independence in 1971. By the same token, it is widely accepted that Saudi Arabia is the de-facto Wahhabi Kingdom of the world, which is all the more reason for Qatar to put feelings and competition aside and look beyond ideology.

So long as a state squanders precious time and resources competing with another state it will never win against, there is no room for progress. India and Pakistan are prime examples of this; the more India tries to compete with Pakistan, the richer Pakistan becomes while India gets poorer.

This is a long call, but stranger things have happened. The quest for money and influence makes people do surprising things.

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