Prof. Dr. Zekeriya Kurşun
The Gulf has become embroiled in a new crisis following Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Those who appeared in the same memory photo of Trump are now involved in a cold war. In fact, soon after his visit, the agenda of the world press focused on his return to the US with $400 billion in his pocket that also included the $110-million arms deal.
Whilst Trump and his supporters regarded this as a victory, the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, looked at the issue from another angle. This was viewed as US support for and in particular, an attempt to ensure the absolute security of the armed forces in the region. In fact, this development has been seen as a rather large step to halt Iran's ambitions to "swallow the Gulf".
The rose colored view quickly dissipated following the sudden onset of rather distressing news. In Qatar, which happens to be the smallest nation in the region yet one of the richest countries in the world in terms of income per capita, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamid al Thani’s comments, saying that “the Iranian issue should not be exaggerated and the dialogue initiatives should be continued” echoed in the media. The current state of affairs changed suddenly and the Gulf became embroiled in a new conflict. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) acted immediately against this "cracked voice". This is not an isolated case, as a similar situation occurred in 2014, although not to the extent that it is now.
The Gulf and US media campaign that took place barely hours after Trumps departure did not escape attention. In particular, those Saudi’s who lay claim to being a descendant of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab that included Al-i Sheikh in the argument has made it a far more interesting topic. In a statement that was made on behalf of the family, the family requested to change the name of a mosque that was named after of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab. As well as cutting diplomatic ties, these three countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain) are keeping the issue up-to-date by blocking the sea, land and air borders with Qatar. It remains to be seen for some time whether these developments are an effort to change the current agenda or if it is age old matter hidden in their underlying conscience. In a sensitive period where the Emir of Qatar’s statements to the media (even if they were rejected), there is little doubt of its perceived support for Iran, who poses a threat to the region.
With a population of nearly two million Shia in Saudi Arabia, and half the population of Bahrain open to Iranian and Shia influence, it can be said that Sheikh Tamim’s statements were not welcomed. On the other side of the coin, these said countries have not taken any serious measure to stoke the Iranian influence either. UAE has issues on the border with Iran, but up until this point in time, it has not abandoned its nearly $20 billion in trade agreements with the country either. Another point is that the numbers of Iranian expats living in UAE outweigh the number of Emirati citizens in its own country. The political hypocrisy that dominates here is a reality. You should avoid adding fuel to the fire.
The harmony between the Gulf Cooperation Countries is of great importance not only for the future and security of the Arab world but it’s equally important for Turkey. However, in recent years, no matter which country the Gulf Cooperation allied with, it yielded no positive outcome whatsoever. The given stance during the Arab Spring – with the exception of Qatar –whether it be the Syrian crisis, the Yemeni conflict that sees no end in sight, the lack of a viable solution in Libya despite UAE support of Haftar and the lack of support in Egypt despite UAE throwing its support and assistance behind al-Sisi, are examples of this. There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have played a dominant role in these procedures. Is it possible that Saudi Arabia have some kind of hope from these crises?
Do they believe that these will lead them to have some kind of leadership over Arab countries?
This was a possibility perhaps a year ago. However the current crisis that Saudi Arabia finds itself in, not to mention the $400 billion dream has turned this into a distant strategy. With Qatar opening its doors to Hamas and to some of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, its demands for Mohammad Morsi’s freedom and its close ties to Turkey, it was no surprise that it was labeled as the problem child of the region. Despite this, it has weathered a great deal of pressure since the beginning of the Arab Spring, and even under the threat of being blocked by the Gulf Cooperation Council, where this politics remains within the realm of real politics. Of course this can also be seen as a rivalry between the younger generation leader and leader candidates in the Gulf (Sheikh Tamim, Muhammad bin Salman, and Muhammad bin Zayed). As a matter of fact, it can also be assumed that Sheikh Tamim, who took advantage of the power by taking over his father, maintains policies of "incompatibility" in order to preserve this advantage. However, it is not possible to define the relationship the countries of this region have with Qatar on the current issues alone.
Moreover, the issue is not a new one as it seems. In the nineteenth century, the British began to spread their power in the Gulf region. They began negotiations with the Gulf however the only Arab ruler that they were unable to persuade was Sheikh Tamims grandfather, Muhammad Al Thanid and his son, the founder of modern Qatar, Jassim Al Thani. Rather, they preferred to be in cooperation with the Ottoman State. Despite tribal disputes and rivalries, this union enabled them to provide full sovereignty for the Qatar peninsula. During the establishment Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz ibn Saud was infatuated with the idea of wanting Qatar under its sphere of influence. For this reason, the Qatar Emiri Sheikh Jassim’s testament to his son Abdullah was that Ottoman soldiers were to never leave Qatar.
Despite the severe conditions, Ottoman soldiers held onto Qatar until 1916. From this point on, the region remained under the control of the British occupation. Towards the end of the 1960’s as the British withdrew from the region, the UAE offered to take Qatar in within a confederation however Qatar preferring independence declined this offer once again showing that Qatar was a nation that acted differently to other countries in the region. The issue did not remain here. Qatar showed itself to be a tough and ambitious negotiator. Saudi Arabia regarded the region as a natural extension of itself. In addition, the Wahhabi sect also exerted influence in Qatar. Consequently, even though it could not directly annex the peninsula, it would still be under its influence.
When the UAE was established, and Sheikh Zayed emerged as a powerful leader in his own right, he also wished to expand the country’s borders on the pretext of an age old issue. Likewise, the al-Udeid region in which there is an established US airbase also was claimed to be a pearl hunting region. As a matter of fact, the strategic alliance that saw the US build a base there was one that they were never happy with and Qatar saw this tactic against them. Neighboring Bahrain wasn’t exactly stand around doing nothing either. As a country it has one of the earliest historical associations with Bahrain, and consequently it is the most problematic. Initially, the Hawar islands - which are located between the two countries- and is a source of six rich gas beds, became an issue of contention. After a long dispute, the International Court of Justice ruled in 2001 that the islands were to be administered by Bahrain, which by sea, tightened the squeeze on Qatar. Bahrain did not seem to be satisfied with this superiority.
Likewise, on the extreme northwest point of Qatar was Zubarah, which was once the residence of the Bahraini royal family and thus they also made claims of sovereignty over this territory. In summary, Qatar has been a target for territorial ambitions as well as a key to stability in the region.
For this reason, it will either consent to its fate and share or act differently, continuing its existence. Qatar has chosen the second path. For this reason, the games we have seen in recent times will be played out and repeated for years to come. Solidarity with Qatar is important for the security and future of the region. Being in solidarity with Qatar is also important in terms of world peace. Being in solidarity with Qatar does not mean being against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain. On the contrary, it is important in terms of reducing the Iranian threat, which as an idea has been shaped in their own minds and a situation that is being taken advantage of being arms dealers.
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