Since June 2017, Saudi Arabia and its supporters have maintained a total blockade of the small monarchy of Qatar. For instance, Saudi Arabia has stopped all land, air and maritime traffic into the nation, and the Qatari economy has suffered the consequences. However, Qatar is weathering the storm, and has been managing to hold its own against its larger and more well-connected patron.
The Hindustan Times reported the findings of Capital Economics, an economic research company, that Qatar avoided the worst possible scenario of descending into a recession. The tourism sector has understandably declined, having been hit hard by the Saudi-imposed blockade. However, the Qatari economy grew in the last quarter of 2017, and the intended isolation of the tiny Gulf state has failed to materialise.
One way that Qatar has managed to sustain itself throughout this blockade is by cultivating powerful friends. For instance, Turkey, which already had trade dealings and military agreements with the tiny nation, has increased its commercial and diplomatic cooperation since the imposition of the Saudi blockade. Turkey sent military equipment to the besieged emirate, deployed troops, and has increased the volume of its trade deals with Qatar. In November 2017, Turkish President Erdogan visited Doha to attend a meeting of the Turkey-Qatar Supreme Strategic Committee.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited Qatar in December 2017, and signed commercial agreements worth billions of Euros. The Qatari Emir has agreed to buy military aircraft from France, and allocated French companies to build and maintain a metro system in Qatar. Having powerful friends willing to do deals has gone a long way in helping Qatar circumvent the Saudi-imposed, and Trump-inspired, blockade. The United States administration is currently emphasising its apparent support for a compromise solution.
The New York Times, in January this year, published a brilliant photo-essay entitled “Tiny, Wealthy Qatar goes its own way, and pays for it”. The article elaborates some of the background to the long-simmering Saudi-Qatari dispute, and the history of Qatar’s ability to use its economic clout to punch above its weight, so to speak. As usual, the NY Times story is accompanied with stunning photographs, such as a panoramic picture of Doha city’s towering skyline. Interestingly, it is not so much petroleum that is the source of Qatar’s wealth, but its large deposits of natural gas – liquefied natural gas to be precise.
Discovered in 1971 in Qatar, natural gas exports propelled an enormous growth in wealth, and thus Qatar was transformed from a barren backwater into a major player in the Persian Gulf. Always regarded as a junior partner in the Gulf Cooperation Council, Qatar began to push its senior patrons (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) for a larger and more important role in the Gulf.
Qatar, while officially sharing the same puritanical Wahhabi brand of Islam with its powerful neighbour, Saudi Arabia, has implemented some liberal reforms domestically. For instance, there are no public beheadings and mutilations performed in Saudi Arabia. Women can not only drive cars in Qatar, but also participate in public sports. Members of the Thani clan, the ruling family in Qatar, are featured as modernising stylish trailblazers in Vanity Fair.
There is one aspect of Qatar’s outreach, while vitally important, is being omitted in any discussion of the issue. The NY Times, while its story was fantastic, shared this crucial omission. Understanding this forgotten feature of Qatar’s behaviour will help us navigate our way through the politics and economics of the Middle East and the wider Persian Gulf. Qatar, as well as other Gulf monarchies, having been making steady and regular overtures towards Israel, hoping to establish mutually beneficial ties of cooperation.
The assistant editor of Electronic Intifada, Tamara Nassar, wrote an article in January this year called “Qatar turns to Israel to escape Saudi squeeze.” Nassar elaborates how the Qatari royal family has been making a sustained attempt to lobby senior Israeli officials, along with right-wing American conservative and Zionist figures, to cozy up to the Zionist regime.
Qatar, supposedly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and accused by Saudi Arabia of supporting Hamas, has sponsored the visits of Christian fundamentalist and right-wing Zionist American political operators to its shores to circumvent the Saudi blockade. However, there is more than just a practical reason for this intended collaboration.
Qatar welcomed the chief of the Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA), Morton Klein, in January this year. Klein, who joined a long list of ultra-right wing conservatives and Zionist supporters who have visited the Qatari kingdom, voiced his displeasure at Qatar’s apparent criticisms of the Trump administration’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Qatar has been sponsoring such trips for many months now:
These include Israel apologist and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, Christian Zionist and former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, conservative radio host and Israel supporter John Batchelor, former Republican congressman Thaddeus McCotter, CEO of the Orthodox Union Kosher Division Rabbi Menachem Genack, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations Malcolm Hoenlein, president of the American Jewish Congress Jack Rosen and the president of the Religious Zionists of America Martin Oliner.
Most of these trips were paid for by the Qatari government.
The quote above comes from another article by Tamara Nassar in the Electronic Intifda entitled “Qatar welcomes head of Zionist Organization of America.”
This is not just a case of pragmatism in the face of difficulties on Qatar’s part. The hereditary monarchies in the Gulf, headed by Saudi Arabia, have a long-standing tradition of seeking working relationships with the Zionist state. Indeed, in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia and its allies imposed the blockade of Qatar, Israel quickly sided with the Saudi action. Avigdor Lieberman, the ultra-rightist Israeli defence minister, stated that the Saudi-Qatari crisis presented an opportunity for increased cooperation between Israel and the Gulf monarchies.
Saudi Arabia has a long practice of cultivating covert and cooperative ties with the Israeli state. Bahrain has been making overtures to the state of Israel, and recently admitted as much publicly. Interestingly, the usual go-between for establishing connections between the two nominally-hostile states is a Trump adviser and evangelical Christian.
The staunchest supporters of Zionism in the United States are to be found among the Christian religious right, who do their utmost to promote the normalisation of connections with the Gulf monarchies and the state of Israel, and this involves abandoning the Palestinians. The obsequious conduct of the Gulf royal families stands in stark contrast to the consistent support given to the Palestinians by the Latin American governments of Cuba and Venezuela.
The Qatari emirate, while being the victim of a grave injustice, is only compounding the region’s problems by seeking out self-serving alliances. The resolution of inter-state conflicts is not to be sought in building higher and longer walls, whether they be physical or economic barriers. The solution resides in recognising the human rights of others and practical solidarity. Nations and peoples that have experienced colonisation and dispossession must stand in support of each other.