Tue, Jun 20, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Invasion, coup or muddle through? How to end the Qatar crisis

By Marc Champion and Mohammed Aly Sergie  /  Bloomberg

If Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hoped the shock of their sudden economic and diplomatic blockade of Qatar would produce a rapid capitulation, it is not panning out that way.

With the dispute entering its third week, both sides have dug in and are bidding for support from outside powers, above all the US, but also Iran, Turkey, Russia and Pakistan. Much will depend on which way the US eventually leans as it weighs addressing concerns over Qatar’s permissive approach to Muslim groups and US geopolitical interests. US President Donald Trump has tweeted a message very different from his administration’s during a crisis that carries significant implications for regional stability and US military capabilities.

Here are four scenarios for what may happen next, ranging from a relatively painless deal to a Saudi-led invasion of Qatar.

A QUICK DEAL

Moving speedily to a negotiated settlement is likely to be harder than during an earlier attempt by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to bring Qatar to heel in 2014. The so-called Riyadh Agreement, reached about a month after diplomatic ties were cut, was never published.

However, it was portrayed by the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states as a commitment by Qatar to end its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots, groups whose ideologies alarm many of the region’s ruling monarchies.

To repeat the feat, Kuwaiti mediators will have to overcome a feeling among Qatar’s estranged GCC partners that Doha reneged on the last accord.

Any agreement would, in the Saudi and UAE view, need to verifiably end Qatar’s support for political Islamists, as well as internationally designated terrorists. It would also need to rein in Doha’s stable of media outlets, including the satellite news channel al-Jazeera.

“This goes beyond al-Jazeera to a range of media that include more nationalist, critical and democratic views,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, senior resident academic at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “They complicate life for countries like Saudi and Yemen, and for the difficult transitions they are trying to achieve.”

Media within the four nations leading the charge against Qatar — Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE — are tightly controlled.

REALIGNMENT

Without a swift resolution, Qatar’s isolation could lead to exactly the opposite regional realignment to the one Saudi Arabia seeks, pushing Qatar into greater dependency on Iran and Turkey.

That is a more plausible outcome than in 2014, in part because younger, more aggressive leaders are in charge in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, making them less willing to compromise, said Andreas Krieg, a lecturer in the department of defense studies at Kings College, London.

At the same time, Washington’s position remains uncertain and Qatar’s royal family sees no need to capitulate, he said.

“Really what the Saudis are trying to achieve is a return to the 1980s, when people in the Gulf felt their first loyalty was to Saudi Arabia, because of the holy mosques, regardless of what passports they held,” Krieg said.

More particularly, it wants a unified policy toward Iran, its chief regional rival.

Instead of unifying, the GCC risks tearing itself apart, Krieg said.

Qatari officials appear confident they can weather the economic impact of the closure of their only land border, although the disruptions to energy and construction companies working in Qatar, as well as banks servicing its US$335 billion sovereign wealth fund, could be significant.

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