Frustrated Qatar Resorts to Misadventures

Bluster has not paid off in the case of Qatar. Nor has the hoard of sovereign funds. The Iranian embraces have translated into little meaningful political gain or advantage. Qatar remains isolated and in limbo since June last year when the Arab Quartet of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt snapped all ties and trade with it and blocked it out of their airspace.

Qatar had to withdraw $20 billion in October from its sovereign wealth fund to shore up its economy and last month projected $7.7 billion deficit in its 2018 budget. On a smaller – and lighter – note it had to import cows to hurriedly set up dairies to make up for the milk shortfall, was compelled to import vegetables from Iran and its camels were left stranded with the Saudis having pushed them back from their territory. It is in talks with Iran to rescue its 2022 Football World Cup since the hotel rooms and training facilities promised to it by its neighbours are now beyond its reach.

Its credibility has been eroded in banking circles, it has lost esteem in the Arab political fraternity and its acceptance of the Iranian chalice has ruined the remains of its reputation. Its rulers stand bewildered and frustrated.

It is a mark of its frustration that last week it sent out its fighter planes to intercept two Bahrain-bound international civilian flights – one of the planes belonged to the Emirates airline of Dubai, the other to Etihad of Abu Dhabi – within a space of one hour, creating consternation among the pilots and alarm among the passengers some of whom were witness to the Qatari planes’ activities since it was daytime.

Confronted with the facts it flatly denied the incidents ever took place and instead claimed that the UAE [to which both the airlines belong] military aircraft violated its airspace. The tracking reports of the flight routes nailed the Qatari lies though, and the UAE has since filed a complaint with the International Civil Aviation Organisation on the issue.

Looking back, the Qatari regime seems to have indulged in lies and deceit many times, only to be unmasked and ridiculed. In 2001 the International Court of Justice threw out its claim on Bahrain’s Hawar islands when it turned out that each and every document it had submitted was forged. Come 2011 when the troubles started in Bahrain in the name of Arab Spring, Qatar again rose to the occasion and its ex-prime minister got in touch with the leader of Al Wefaq, the largest Shia political society with links to Iran, to solicit support to overthrow the Bahraini regime. The society’s leader Ali Salman is now under trial in Bahrain for being party to the plot.

qatar fifa stadium.
Qatar FIFA stadium.

Its deceit again came to the fore when it turned out that while Qatar was part of the Peninsula Shield Force [PSF], consisting of the forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council, it actually used its officers in the force to gather intelligence for Iran which has been supporting the Houthi rebels there, who the PSF was trying to quell! And how it bribed its way into winning the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup is a story that has already made headlines the world over.

This is the country five of Qatar’s neighbours have to contend with. And while its rulers might be tight with the ayatollahs in the short run, Iran is more likely to use Qatar both as a tool and a launchpad to create chaos and mayhem in the Gulf rather than bring it any good or solace or allow it to grow into a regional power – a Qatari dream that is the source of everything that has resulted in the current imbroglio. And its innate Arab pride will not allow it to go back to its former GCC partners with any gesture of contrition or regret anytime soon.

Until then, in its reckoning, misadventures will do.

Brij Sharma
Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don't usually hear from the middle east country.