Saudi Arabia and Qatar – Trump Inflames the Family Feud – HuffPost
By backing Saudi Arabia’s vision of the Middle East and boosting the Saudi-Israeli entente against Iran president Trump has sparked a geopolitical earthquake in the region, especially within the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt cut ties, attempting to isolate tiny but influential Qatar, accusing it of sponsoring terrorism. At the same time, the de facto Saudi-Israeli axis labels Iran an immediate existential threat, drawing their American ally back into the Middle East, parenthetically dumping on it the costs of this geopolitical strategy.
President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, with its mutual flattery and highly touted, though still theoretical, multibillion dollar deal, has given carte blanche to Riyadh’s search for regional dominance. After suppressing minorities and other voices of dissent, the Saudis are intensifying the war against Yemen with further carpet bombing, deepening the famine in the most populous country of the Arabian Peninsula, and blocking access to Qatar by air, land and sea, launching a de facto war against it.
In a shocking performance even by his own standards, President Trump in a Washington speech and via Twitter tore into Qatar with inflammatory language, calling it a State Sponsor of Terrorism, while repeating generic accusations against Iran. Gradually, the outlines of a geopolitical plan seem to be forming: Helping Saudi Arabia dominate the Arabian Peninsula by subordinating the Yemenis and subduing Qatar and, with Tel Aviv’s tacit accord, possibly attacking Iran, moving first on Iran-linked Syrian and Iraqi militias before moving directly against Iran itself. Perhaps fighting ISIS is no longer the top priority.
Behind the Saudi-Qatari Split
Between Qatar and Saudi Arabia (as well as the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt) there are several controversies. Qatar – 11,000 square kilometers with a population of 2,500,000, half of them foreigners – is the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and shares with Iran the largest natural gas field on the planet, South Pars. One of the world’s richest nations, Qatar is a crucial supplier of LNG to Asia and Europe, with massive investments in Europe through its sovereign wealth fund. Qatar’s wealth tickles many appetites, including Trump’s, who would like the US to replace Qatar as global supplier; and here perhaps is the real reason for Trump’s tweet-storm against the tiny country. To all this must be added the fact that Qatar hosts the US Central Command (CentCom) base in the Middle East.
There is competition among young Arab princes, especially between the powerful 31 year old Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman and 37 year old Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Emir of Qatar. Between Bahrain and Qatar there are also disputes, while the UAE would have the Americans to move their CentCom to the UAE. Qatar admits supporting the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, but denies backing Terrorism; it maintains relatively good relations with Iran, even while keeping an open channel with Israel. This playing to all sides upsets the Saudis, whose forma mentis demands obedience; still, it is not the deepest cause of the Saudi-Qatari schism.
The Split within Sunni Islam
While the economics of natural gas export and related trade management are important, the Saudi-Qatari split is primarily ideological: A Muslim Brotherhood approach based on participation and elections even though in illiberal Islamist form (Turkey, the Egypt of Morsi), vs. Absolutist rule – whether by a military elite (the Egypt of General al-Sisi) or a Salafist tribal petro-aristocracy (Saudi Arabia) or by feuding families (UAE, Bahrain, Qatar) – that rejects participation and elections. It seems an illiberal democracy opposing an undemocratic liberalism. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood oriented Turkey of Erdogan supports Qatar, while the Egypt of General al-Sisi is aligned with the Saudi coalition.
The blockade of Qatar in reality is the product of the ideology and politics of the Saudi-Egyptian approach, which has the tacit support of Israel and the overt and inflammatory support of Trump.
Trump’s Friendship with the Saudis and his Rhetoric on Qatar