It is 45 days since four major Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – followed by some others declared a boycott against Qatar and put in place a variety of measures to punish it. Those measures include closing of their land, sea and air borders to the tiny country. Of the four, all but Egypt belong to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of which Qatar also is a member.
The reasons as outlined in the 13-point list of conditions presented to Qatar by the Big Four are well known by now. The foremost among all was Qatar’s support for terror and extremist outfits ranging from the Taliban and Hamas to Al Qaeda and other outfits paying obeisance to ISIS. Some of the outfits even had offices in the Qatar capital of Doha and many of their leaders even led cushy lives there.
Al Jazeera TV was another sore point which crossed red lines virtually every day to malign and denigrate the rulers and governments of GCC countries and yet ran not a single report even mildly criticizing Qatar all through its existence, though Qatar had much to explain. The TV channel hid behind the fig leaf of the freedom of the Press. The Big Four wanted it closed.
And the third appalling aspect was Qatar’s warm relations with Iran despite the latter’s known history of destabilising Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, occupying the UAE islands, spying on Kuwait, attacking Saudi diplomatic missions and generally harming the interests of the GCC countries.
The message was clear – Qatar could not run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. But Doha was refusing to read the message notwithstanding serious attempts by Kuwait – a GCC brother – and the US to resolve the issue. The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs was quite explicit while speaking at a London seminar last week: “You [Qatar] cannot be part of a regional organization dedicated to strengthening mutual security and furthering mutual interest and at the same time undermine that security. You cannot be both our friend and a friend of Al Qaeda.”
While agreeing that financing of extremists in the Gulf was an issue, it said countries like Saudi Arabia were dealing with it in earnest. The implication was that Qatar on the contrary was among the financiers of terror outfits. He also hinted at the expulsion of Qatar from the GCC once the other members’ patience ran out.
“What we really do want is we either reach an agreement and Qatar’s behaviour changes, or Qatar makes its own bed and they can move on and we can move with a new relationship. But we cannot have a member who is undermining us and supporting extremism,” the UAE minister said.
And undermining is what Qatar has been caught out doing. At the height of troubles in Bahrain in 2011, when the forces of the GCC umbrella outfit called Peninsula Shield arrived in Bahrain to protect its sovereignty, Qatar sent out its spies in the guise of army officers. And when the same force went out to quell the Iran-backed troubles in Yemen, Qatar did send its share of forces but at the same time it was supporting the tribal adversaries of these forces as well who were backed by Iran.
In view of such double-dealing it would certainly make sense to put further pressure on Qatar by expelling it from the GCC.