Mehio, “What is Qatar doing in Kuwait and the Emirates?”

Below is a translation of Lebanese journalist and commentator Saad Mehio‘s September 22 read on intra-Gulf relations — more specifically, those between Qatar and everyone else.  (Via the Twitter feed of Professor Abdulkhaleq Abdulla.)

What is Qatar doing in Kuwait and the Emirates? 

– I –

Is Qatar really interfering in the internal affairs of Kuwait, the Emirates and Bahrain?

At the start, this question belonged to the world of rumors.  When Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasem Al Thani came forward to deny these accusations, however, matters began to take on another shape – a serious, political one, to be specific.  Why?

The denial meant that the issue had gone from being “biased rumors aimed at sowing the seeds of discord between the Gulf states” (as a Lebanese journalist volunteered today) to being a matter of debate in the Gulf states’ foreign policy. After all, there’s no smoke without fire.  Most importantly, the countries of the Gulf have grown accustomed to addressing differences within the Gulf Cooperation Council in secrecy.  Just the fact that an official voice from Qatar insisted on moving from the custom of silence to the world of the explicit, then, betrays that something is going on in relations between the Gulf states.

The writer of these lines recalls an episode months after the revolutions of the Arab Spring erupted: While eating lunch with a Qatari ambassador to a Gulf country, we were surprised as the ambassador exploded in anger when he saw the restaurant’s “garcons” constantly approaching the table to listen in on us.  The ambassador then said angrily: “Have they gotten so afraid of us that they’re driven to watch us like this?”

– II –

Of course, this fear doesn’t stem from Qatar’s exporting of democracy to these countries.  After all, how can it export what it lacks?  Someone who lacks something, as is well-known, can hardly give it away.  True, it supported Egypt and Tunisia’s revolutions with its media, and sent forces to Libya’s revolutionaries, and now sends weapons and funds to Syria.  But it has done that based on three drivers: Firstly, its Emir’s desire’s to put Qatar’s vast wealth towards the best that money can buy in terms of reputation and diplomatic influence.  Secondly (and more importantly), Doha’s inclinations seem at most times to amount to American foreign policy with Qatari colors.  And thirdly, there is Qatar’s intense desire to retain its independence, wrested from its Saudi big brother – even if that means turning to its American big brother.  This is perhaps represented best in Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood at the expense of the Saudi-supported Salafi forces.

What concerns the other countries of the Gulf, and especially Kuwait and the Emirates at this point, is the second motive: that is, Qatar serving as the bridge by which America wants to transport its desires for reform to these countries.  The latter, in particular, is well aware that the Arab Spring would not have bloomed and toppled Mubarak, Ben Ali, Qaddafi and Saleh had America not irrigated it.

Given that the countries of the Gulf are unable to air their dirty laundry with the great power that represents their only protection from the ruin of Iranian ambitions – and before that, Iraqi ones – they have perhaps found it better to fortify the Gulf home by cutting off the Qatari house within.

These countries may succeed.  But this will not undo the fact that change and reform in the Gulf states have already reached the core of the international agenda.  The clearest new evidence of that came out yesterday when Mike Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, launched a fierce and unprecedented campaign on the government of Bahrain, accusing it of breaking all its promises to reform and hold the mukhabarat back from its people.


What does that all mean?

It confirms what no longer needs confirming: The Arab Spring is not a passing season. Rather, it is part of a comprehensive international strategy that will only end when the whole makeup of the Middle East has changed.  It’s no use trying to stop it by spending billions of dollars funding extremist Salafists in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries to undermine their democratic transitions, or by dispersing billions more to paper over each Gulf state’s internal contradictions.

In this context, supposed Qatari “interference” may only be the tip of the iceberg under the Gulf’s waters these days.

* * *

How right former American ally Ali Abdullah Saleh was when, in the wake of the announcement of the “Freedom Agenda” in the Middle East, he said: “If we don’t shave ourselves quickly, they’ll do it for us.”

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