For several days now, Qatar has been boycotted from its neighbors’ air, land or seas, leaving it with no viable land border and just a tiny corridor for air and sea traffic. A number of shipping companies also halted service to Doha’s ports.
Doha’s isolation was a result of the rebel politics that has grown up in its hotels, malls, think tanks and conference centers in recent years.
A “Politico” journalist, Elizabeth Dickinson, reported on her Qatari experience saying that it “was like stumbling into a bazaar of regional conflict. There were the Syrians, who bounced between hotels and newly constructed villas; the Libyans, who held court at the Four Seasons; the Afghan Taliban representatives, who liked to roam around upscale shopping centers on the weekend.”
Reporting from the hotel she stayed at, Dickinson says that “the mezzanine level hosted an office for Darfuri rebels. The door was clearly marked, lest anyone mistake it for the gym, which was right beside it.”
“By mishap alone in my half decade reporting from Qatar, I stumbled into Hamas chief Khaled Mishaal, Tunisian Islamist leader Rached Ghannouchi, now-deceased Sudanese opposition figure Hassan Al-Turabi.”
Qatar also hosts the largest US air base in the region in 2003, even as it aligned itself with Muslim Brotherhood affiliates across the globe.
“Qatar became the patron of lost causes throughout the Middle East: extremist insurgents in Libya and the Brotherhood in Egypt. Doha didn’t simply mail certified checks to each of these organizations.
Instead, it picked out middlemen — “Friends of Qatar,” as I call them — for each cause and funneled support through their operations. In the kindest reading, it was messy, corrupt and replete with unintended consequences. To the country’s critics, it was reckless and intolerable,” says Dickinson.
“What its neighbors want is an end to its one true source of political power: its ability to annoy,” Politico cited Dickinson.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain ran out of patience in 2014. All three countries pulled their ambassadors from Doha and pushed Qatar to sign an agreement promising to comply with regional norms.
Qatar agreed to stop some of its more irritating activities, shipped Egyptian fugitives to Turkey and scaled back support to groups in Libya. But after several weeks, things went back to normal.
Commenting on US President Donald Trump’s Saudi visit, Dickenson says that “visiting Saudi Arabia last month in his first trip overseas, Trump anointed Riyadh as the center of the Middle East and America’s top ally. The move has visibly shifted the balance of power in the Gulf.”
Then, late last month, Qatar’s official news agency published comments attributed to the country’s emir, Doha claimed the agency had been hacked.
That’s when Qatar’s neighbors turned up the pressure — and Trump offered his approval.
“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday, appearing to back Qatar’s isolation.
He continued: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding … extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
The UAE’s foreign ministry summed up some of the specifics on what Doha’s neighbors want: Qatar must reign in its media empire, eject regional fugitives, disallow clerics from defaming other Gulf states, and cut support to the Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, they want Qatar to behave a lot more like the rest of the Gulf.
If Doha complies, the Muslim Brotherhood — including its affiliates in Egypt — Palestine’s Hamas, and Tunisia’s Ennahda will lose a donor, a safe haven, and a gaggle of media ready to come to its defense.
Tensions between Riyadh and Tehran have been rising since the Arab Spring, when the two capitals chose opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. Arab Muslims are outraged by Iran’s role in helping slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians in Syria.