x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Qatar dispute raises a string of conflicting arguments

Qatar's dispute with its GCC neighbours, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, dominated talk on the sidelines of the Arab League meeting in Kuwait.

What the Arabic press is saying about the dispute between Qatar and three of its neighbours, compiled and translated by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni

The crisis that prompted Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to recall their ambassadors from Qatar continues to dominate the regional media. While a number of writers have taken a hard line, some commentators have sought to balance their views, buoyed by the common ground that still exists between the Gulf neighbours.

Writing for the Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej, Abdul Hussein Shaaban said that the surprising withdrawal of the three ambassadors was one of the most serious incidents in the 33-year history of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

This showed that the differences between Qatar and the protesting trio have reached a tipping point and could not be contained. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have been particularly upset about Qatar’s direct support for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the Friday sermons of the Doha-based Egyptian cleric Yousuf Al Qaradawi.

Other less reported issues had to do with alleged ties Qatar had with Al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria, its backing of the Houthis in Yemen, its support of Tunisia’s Ennahda Islamist party and its paradoxical foreign policy under which it has relations with Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah, the writer noted.

But what’s next? Will the row stop there? Or will it escalate?

Certainly, Qatar’s ambitious foreign policy has crossed what the Gulf States deemed as red lines, Shaaban opined.

Whether the crisis will be solved or escalated is hard to tell. This will depend on how far the three Gulf states are willing to go if Doha fails to budge. Will they freeze Qatar out of the GCC and shut its border? And will Qatar, should this ever happen, contain the crisis or instead seek to strengthen ties with Iran and Turkey?

Striking a more hopeful tone, Salah Al Dabbas cited Winston Churchill’s quote “A nation has no permanent enemies and no permanent friends, only permanent interests”, to argue that this is true of nations without significant commonalities, let alone those with deep-rooted cultural and economic ties, as is the case in the Gulf.

Therefore, Al Dabbas noted in an article in the Doha-based paper Al Sharq, the recent developments that have soured relations between the Gulf neighbours will soon be something of the past.

That views and policies differ among the Gulf countries is a healthy thing and there is no way they could develop into conflicts that threaten the common ground.

The Gulf dispute must not be labelled as an enmity, the writer said, noting that a solution will sooner or later be devised by Gulf leaders.

Similarly, Khalifa Ali Al Suwaidi wrote in Al Ittihad that some commentators have magnified the crisis by spreading rumours and leaks. He went on to say that Qatar is about to do the right thing.

The writer praised the wise statement of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, in which he said “the Qatari people are our brothers and our family”. Although differences can happen, “nothing will separate us from our brothers, the people of Qatar”.

On a related note, Emad Eddine Hussein, editor-in chief of the Cairo-based newspaper Al Shorouk, remarked on a paradox he observed while attending the Arab Summit in Kuwait.

The paradox, he explained, was that while Qatar was a common subject of discussion between the media and participants on the sidelines of the conference, all statements coming out of the Arab officials said the crisis with Qatar was off the table.

Egypt’s foreign minister told the writer that there were more serious issues than the row with Doha, such as growing regional extremism, the Syrian tragedy and the Palestinian issue. However, he said Kuwait has made significant mediation efforts towards resolving the dispute, but Qatar has remained intransigent.

The minister said that Doha has talked about reconciliation but has done the opposite. Arab officials say behind closed doors what they cannot say in public because of the nature of international relations. But Gulf officials know that Qatar has been dealt possibly the hardest blow since its inception, the writer noted.

All Arab eyes will be closely watching Doha’s policy and whether the Qatari vows will be put into action. This is particularly true for the Gulf neighbours who will not be fooled again by Qatar’s lip service, he said.