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04 October 2019  

The Africa-Palestine Conference: Why South Africa must lead the way

on Palestine

By Ramzy Baroud On 16 September, I visited South Africa, a country where many Palestinians have always felt welcomed, if not overwhelmed by the degree of genuine and meaningful so...

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14 September 2019  

Tunisia’s presidential elections: A fragmented field

on Tunisia

  By Larbi Sadiki The Tunisian presidential race is heating up. With several front-runners and twenty-six candidates, the upcoming early elections on 15 September reflects a...

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06 September 2019  

The war ahead: Netanyahu's election gamble will be costly for…

on Israel

By Ramzy Baroud On 1 September, the Lebanese group Hizbullah, struck an Israeli military base near the border town of Avivim. The Lebanese attack came as an inevita...

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04 September 2019  

Budding frenemies: The complicated US-Turkish relationship

on Turkey

When Donald Trump was elected the forty-fifth president of the USA in November 2016, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was among the first world leaders to congratulate ...

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14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

July began with a major shake-up in the Syrian military and intelligence apparatus. In an attempt to consolidate power after regaining territorial control over most of the country...

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30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts perpetuated by post-colonial vest...

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04 October 2019  

The Africa-Palestine Conference: Why South Africa must lead the way

on Palestine

By Ramzy Baroud On 16 September, I visited South Africa, a country where many Palestinians have always felt welcomed, if not overwhelmed by the degree of genuine and meaningful so...

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14 September 2019  

Tunisia’s presidential elections: A fragmented field

on Tunisia

  By Larbi Sadiki The Tunisian presidential race is heating up. With several front-runners and twenty-six candidates, the upcoming early elections on 15 September reflects a...

Read more

06 September 2019  

The war ahead: Netanyahu's election gamble will be costly for…

on Israel

By Ramzy Baroud On 1 September, the Lebanese group Hizbullah, struck an Israeli military base near the border town of Avivim. The Lebanese attack came as an inevita...

Read more

04 September 2019  

Budding frenemies: The complicated US-Turkish relationship

on Turkey

When Donald Trump was elected the forty-fifth president of the USA in November 2016, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was among the first world leaders to congratulate ...

Read more

14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

July began with a major shake-up in the Syrian military and intelligence apparatus. In an attempt to consolidate power after regaining territorial control over most of the country...

Read more

30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts perpetuated by post-colonial vest...

Read more
More from this category

04 October 2019  

The Africa-Palestine Conference: Why South Africa must lead the way

on Palestine

By Ramzy Baroud On 16 September, I visited South Africa, a country where many Palestinians have always felt welcomed, if not overwhelmed by the degree of genuine and meaningful so...

Read more

06 September 2019  

The war ahead: Netanyahu's election gamble will be costly for…

on Israel

By Ramzy Baroud On 1 September, the Lebanese group Hizbullah, struck an Israeli military base near the border town of Avivim. The Lebanese attack came as an inevita...

Read more

04 September 2019  

Budding frenemies: The complicated US-Turkish relationship

on Turkey

When Donald Trump was elected the forty-fifth president of the USA in November 2016, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was among the first world leaders to congratulate ...

Read more

14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

July began with a major shake-up in the Syrian military and intelligence apparatus. In an attempt to consolidate power after regaining territorial control over most of the country...

Read more

23 June 2019  

Strategic implications of the 'deal of the century' and the…

on Palestine-Israel

Aisling Byrne interviews Abdel Bari Atwan Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ (DoC) - whether in its actual or conceptual form - is ushering in a new strategic era, providing cov...

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14 June 2019  

Postponed: Unveiling of Trump's 'deal of the century' frozen as…

on Palestine-Israel

Touted by its architects as the ‘deal of the century’, US president Donald Trump’s plan for Palestine and Israel has had to again be kept hidden as Israel heads back to elections a...

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23 October 2018  

Jamal Khashoggi, small spark for a large fire

on Saudi Arabia

By Hassan Aourid Until last Saturday, I was hopeful that the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Istanbul was not more than a case of c...

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19 October 2018  

Khashoggi murder: Killing dissent even from within

on Saudi Arabia

The gruesome murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was designed to be a clear and firm message for Saudi dissidents, and reflected th...

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08 July 2018  

As Hudaida falls to Saudi-Emirati coalition, peace for Yemen seems…

on Yemen

The recent and ongoing Saudi-Emirati offensive on the Yemeni port city of Hudaida will render UN special envoy Martin Griffiths’s ‘new’ solution to the five-year-long Yemeni crisis...

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18 May 2018  

Beyond Tradition and Modernity: Dilemmas of Transformation in Saudi Arabia

on Saudi Arabia

By Madawi Al-Rasheed Introduction The dominant narrative through which many observers understand Saudi Arabia depicts a progressive and modernist leadership struggling to gra...

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27 April 2018  

Chaotic Yemen: The deconstruction of a failed state and regional…

on Yemen

by Helen Lackner Yemen remains in the grip of its most severe crisis ever: the civil war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government of President Abd Rabbuh ...

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12 December 2017  

How the Saudis Escalated Yemen Struggle Beyond All Control

on Yemen

By Justin Podur Yemen is a small, poor country in a region empires have plundered for centuries. This civil war is a local struggle that has been escalated out of control by the a...

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14 September 2019  

Tunisia’s presidential elections: A fragmented field

on Tunisia

  By Larbi Sadiki The Tunisian presidential race is heating up. With several front-runners and twenty-six candidates, the upcoming early elections on 15 September reflects a...

Read more

30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts perpetuated by post-colonial vest...

Read more

30 July 2019  

The December 2018 revolution and Sudanese professionals in the diaspora

on Sudan

WE LEFT SUDAN In drovesIn the late 80’s and 90’sIndeed, my generation of educated Sudanese professionals are scattered around the globe(Out of 200 medical graduates from Khartoum ...

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29 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

By Zeenat Adam 17 July 2019 Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts per...

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17 April 2019  

Bashir falls but the security apparatus maintains control

on Sudan

Since the military ouster of Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir, early on Thursday, 11 April, after three months of protests, different military factions have been jos...

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16 April 2019  

Haftar's march on Tripoli

on Libya

Khalifa Haftar’s 4 April announcement declaring his march on Tripoli, and the subsequent attack on the Libyan capital by his forces, threaten to gravely impact the a...

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12 October 2018  

Ethiopia, Eritrea: An unlikely peace deal in a fractious region

on Ethiopia

The recent peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea, signed 16 September 2018, is set to have lasting consequences for both countries and for the Horn of Africa ...

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06 April 2017  

Ensuring Somalia remains in conflict: Trump’s expanded ‘war on terror’

on Somalia

By Afro-Middle East Centre The 29 March decision by the administration of US president Donald Trump declaring Somalia an ‘area of active hostility’ will likely ensure an escalatio...

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10 October 2016  

South Sudan: Beyond the logjam of UNSC Resolution 2304

on South Sudan

By Majak D’Agoôt and Remember Miamingi No country is entirely self-contained or lacking in interdependencies. These interlocking interests form the critical part of any country’s ...

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28 April 2015  

Nigeria’s elections and future challenges

on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Afro-Middle East Centre The election of General Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president will see a renewed focus by the government on domestic challenges posed by endemic...

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26 September 2013  

Kenyan hostage crisis: The desperation of al-Shabab

on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Afro-Middle East Centre The hostage drama at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi over the past week has raised a number of questions about the Somali organisation al-Shabab. After the...

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23 January 2013  

French military intervention will add to Mali’s problems

on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Afro-Middle east Centre   The north of Africa was plunged into yet another international conflict with France’s invasion of Mali on Friday, 11 January. Without im...

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23 April 2019  

India in Kashmir: Risking peace as an antidote to war

on South Asia

By Ranjan Solomon On 14 February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber ...

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28 August 2015  

Does Pakistan’s refusal to join Saudi Arabia in Yemen indicate…

on Pakistan

By Afro-Middle East Centre Allegedly, the current Saudi-led onslaught on Yemen has already caused destruction that resembles the destruction wrought in Syria over the la...

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31 March 2012  

The feasibility of a continued United States presence in Afghanistan

on South Asia

By Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn Recent events in Afghanistan have fuelled speculation over the ability of international forces to continue their presence in the coun...

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28 February 2012  

Dangerous uncertainty in Pakistan

on South Asia

By Junaid S. Ahmed With relations between Pakistan's civilian government and military incredibly tense, speculation is rife in the Pakistani and international media of a looming m...

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30 May 2011  

Pakistan-USA relations in the post-Usama era

on South Asia

By Junaid S. Ahmad The assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by US Special Forces was supposed to have been a landmark triumph that would bring peace and stability to the r...

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13 December 2010  

Kashmir and Obama's Indian appeasement

on South Asia

By Mohammad Abdullah Gul Obama's recent jive with school children in Delhi symbolises the nature of the new relationship that is emerging between India and the United States of Am...

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26 April 2017  

IS reorganising to face new challenges

on Political Islam

Reports in January 2017 that the leader of the Islamic State group (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been killed, reports that he had been captured by Russian troops in Syria, and th...

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07 March 2017  

IS in Africa: Containment and fragmentation

on Political Islam

By Afro-Middle East Centre With the Islamic State group (IS) losing territory in Syria and Iraq, many believe that the group will use the territory it controls in Africa as a fall...

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14 May 2016  

The Paradox of Survival and Expansion: How the Islamic State…

on Political Islam

Omar Ashour This paper examines the reasons for the military steadfastness of the Islamic State group (IS) in the face of local and international forces that are larger in numbers...

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19 December 2015  

ISIS in Africa: Reality far different from IS propaganda

on Political Islam

By Afro-Middle East Centre The revelation that the alleged mastermind of the 13 November Paris attacks claimed by the Islamic State group (IS) was of Moroccan descent, the tur...

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20 July 2015  

Remaining and expanding: Measuring the Islamic State group’s success in…

on Political Islam

By Afro-Middle East Centre Since its declaration of a ‘caliphate’ on 29 June 2014, the Islamic State group (IS), the brutal successor to al-Qa'ida, has gone from stren...

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31 January 2012  

The rise of 'Ikhwanophobia': Fear of the Muslim Brotherhood

on Political Islam

By Dr. Mohsen Saleh Introduction Fear of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwanal-Muslimoon), the leading Islamist movement, has gained unprecedented international prominence since the b...

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18 February 2018  

Africa and the problem of foreign military bases

on 'War on terror'

At the establishment of the African Union (AU) in May 2001, discourses about human security and counter terrorism were ubiquitous both globally and on the continent. In Africa, the...

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21 November 2015  

The Paris attacks: Aftermath and the Islamic State group’s future

on 'War on terror'

By Afro-Middle East Centre The terror unleashed on Paris streets on 13 November reverberated throughout the world. From the G20 summit in Antalya to social media debates about how...

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28 May 2010  

Al-Qaeda in the New National Security Strategy

on 'War on terror'

By Mark Lynch The Obama administration's new National Security Strategy has been released today. It goes a long way towards providing a coherent framework for American foreign pol...

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16 February 2010  

Pakistan’s attitude towards Obama’s plan to negotiate with the Taliban

on 'War on terror'

By Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gilani U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan has generally been welcomed in Pakistan. It is being seen as a vindication...

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07 February 2010  

Mission Absolute: American hegemony in space

on 'War on terror'

By Sourav Roy Come April 2010, officials from the sleepy Polish municipality of Morag will be gearing up for perhaps their most critical assignment in the new decade. Their job wi...

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Saudi-Qatari tensions and implications for the Persian Gulf

Saudi Arabia and the future of GCC

Within the GCC, there is a growing rift not only between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain, but also between the latter three countries and, separately, Kuwait and Oman. This division was highlighted recently when Oman publicly disagreed with Saudi Arabia over creating a greater union out of the GCC alliance, an idea that was first proposed by the Saudi king, Abdullah, in 2011, and repeated in December 2013 by Saudi state minister for foreign affairs, Nizar Madani. Oman’s foreign affairs minister, Yusuf bin Alawi, rejected the idea, arguing that the GCC was an economic and security alliance that had to preserve the independence of its six members.

Oman’s stance on the union was a clear message that it would regard attempts to form a union as a threat to Oman’s sovereignty. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, however, insist that union is inevitable.

Saudi Arabia has another reason to be irritated with its smaller neighbour. Since 2011, Oman has played host to secret negotiations between the USA and Iran, thus facilitating warming relations between the two rival states that led to the November 2013 Geneva nuclear deal between Tehran and the P5+1 (USA, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany). Saudi Arabia’s animosity towards Iran is no secret; in fact, its attempts to form a union out of the GCC states may be interpreted as a response to Iran’s increasingly favourable reception in the West. Since its inception in 1981, the GCC has been rooted in Gulf Arab fears of a revolutionary Iranian state; hence its continual efforts to solidify security arrangements between member states. From the Saudi perspective, Oman – by declining to form a union with Saudi Arabia, maintaining warm relations with Iran and actively assisting in its rehabilitation – is not only thwarting Saudi Arabia’s desire for regional hegemony, but is also presenting it with a security risk.

The GCC states face other problems too. Saudi Arabia is keen to form a GCC security pact that will unite member states against any external threat (read Iran), and allow for better coordination on internal security issues, a renewed concern in the wake of the Middle East North Africa uprisings. Saudi Arabia has already taken steps to proscribe its citizens from engaging in militant activities outside the country. In addition, Saudi Arabia is eager to secure this pact because Saudi ruling elites face a threat from the country’s Shi’a population, which has been exacerbated by the Syrian conflict and Bahraini uprisings. However, Saudi desires to bind the GCC member states through the security pact are being thwarted by Kuwait, the only member state that has not ratified it. Although Kuwait’s interior minister signed the agreement in November 2012, parliament has to approve it before it can be ratified. Kuwait has the most vibrant, democratic environment among GCC countries, allowing its parliamentarians, and civil society groups, to resist the security agreement. This means that the GCC might be prevented from performing a basic function: an enhanced and integrated security architecture between member states.

This raises problems for Saudi Arabia, not only because it wants to use the GCC to manage regional dissent, but also because Kuwait’s reasons for resisting the agreement will likely resonate with Qatar. Kuwait’s concern is that the agreement, besides providing for cooperation between states to crush internal dissent, allows a member state to request another to extradite the latter’s citizens if the former regards them as acting against its security interests. Besides the potential for grave human rights’ violations, this aspect of the agreement has direct bearing on the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia accuses the Qatari government of meddling in its internal security affairs and giving refuge to members of the Muslim Brotherhood – which Saudi Arabia regards as a terrorist organisation - such as the prominent cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi government.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar: A history of disputes

Tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia must, therefore, be seen alongside other regional disagreements. The two states are the most prominent actors within the GCC, and their disputes are likely to cause other fault lines within the region to widen quite rapidly.

Although the current Qatar-Saudi Arabia dispute stems from different positions the two states have taken in relation to opposition groups throughout the region in the context of the MENA uprisings, tensions between them date back to 1913, when Abdul Aziz, the founder of the Saudi state, occupied then annexed Qatar. It was only under British pressure that Saudi Arabia recognised Qatar’s borders. These tensions have not faded, as was evident from a remark made last year by Prince Bandar bin Sultan – former Saudi ambassador to the USA and head of Saudi General Intelligence agency – that Qatar is not a proper country, and is ‘nothing but 300 people and a TV channel’.

Over the last twenty years, when Saudi Arabia did not have to deal with Iraq as a contender for regional hegemony, it has treated Qatar as a constant source of irritation. In 1992, for example, Saudi Arabia sent forces into Qatar and seized the al-Khafous border post. A few years later, in 1995, the Qatari government alleged that Saudi Arabia was fomenting a coup in alliance with a local clan. It is this context of mutual hostility that provides a backdrop to their more recent disagreements.

That Qatar, as a riposte, might harbour plans to split Saudi Arabia was revealed in a leaked phone conversation that allegedly took place in January 2011 between Qatar’s then foreign and prime minister, Hammad bin Jassim, and former Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi. Jassim allegedly claimed that Saudi Arabia would unravel at his hands, and, after the king’s death, would be partitioned, with Qatar seizing the eastern province of Qatif.

In light of this brief history, it is clear that Saudi-Qatari tensions are not simply a matter of foreign policy differences. Each country believes it has reason to assume that the other is fundamentally hostile, thus posing a national security threat. When national security means regime security, as it does here, disagreements are bound to get personal and induce major strategic shifts in regional alliances, unless the leaders can de-escalate tensions and build trust. One opportunity for doing so presented itself in their joint opposition to Syria’s Assad regime. However, given the wrangling for control in Syrian opposition ranks, the opportunity was lost. Differences between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have plagued the process of building a strong Syrian opposition, and with President Bashar al-Assad more firmly in control than a year ago, the larger set of differences between Saudi Arabia and Qatar have become more pronounced. With no rapprochement in sight, Saudi Arabia is threatening Qatar’s expulsion from the GCC, and the formation of a GCC union with only four members (excluding Qatar and Oman).

Qatar between three poles of power

With the very existence of the GCC threatened, the possibility of Saudi Arabia and Qatar instigating regime change and secessionist movements in each other’s territory, and a rising Iran, the Persian Gulf is likely to see a change in the balance of power. Iran’s ascendancy is contributing to a Saudi desire to consolidate its strength in what it views as a zero-sum game with Iran. In its belligerent attitude towards Qatar, Saudi Arabia is neglecting some basic strategic calculations. The Persian Gulf region has three poles of power, two of which (Iran and Saudi Arabia) are in the region, and the third (USA) is outside. By alienating Qatar, Saudi Arabia is not only giving the emirate reason to ally with Iran, but could also cause the USA to prefer Qatar as a military partner in the Gulf.

While, as has been acknowledged by some influential Saudi politicians, US-Saudi relations are likely to experience a downgrade due to projected shale gas production in the USA, the Middle East will continue to be important for the USA for military reasons. With Qatar housing the US Central Command at its Al Udeid Air Base, it is more of a military asset to USA than Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s value as a US military ally is complicated by its own policies. The Saudi dual strategy of offering military support to the USA, while exporting Muslim militancy on the other hand, has already backfired for both countries. For the USA, it led to the 911 catastrophe, and subsequent exhaustive and expensive wars, while for Saudi Arabia it gave rise to massive internal and regional security threats.

Qatar, with a smaller and less disaffected population, represents a safer bet as a military ally for the USA. Furthermore, while Saudi Arabia portrays itself as the ‘protector of the two holy sites (in Makkah and Madinah)’, Qatar has no such pretensions to any religious leadership in the Muslim world. This leaves Qatar (and the USA) less prone to the attack that it is acting hypocritically. Qatar has also managed the Islamic form of republicanism championed by the Muslim Brotherhood much better than Saudi Arabia has. By supporting it in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia (instead of treating it as a threat), Qatar reduced the chances of a republican critique of its monarchical form of Islam, and made itself indispensable as a supporter of Islamic populism. Whether the Muslim Brotherhood is in or out of power, it knows that it can count on Qatari support, helping to maintain an image of Qatar among some in the Middle East as a state supporting people’s struggles. Such strategic gains make Qatar a better ally for the USA than Saudi Arabia, both militarily and diplomatically, especially in light of recent US demands for democratic reforms to regimes across the region. This is not to suggest that the USA will necessarily make a choice between Qatar and Saudi Arabia; it will prefer both countries in its stable. However, in a context where Saudi Arabia is increasingly charting a path independent from the USA on a number of issues, the USA might see Qatar as more reliable and predictable.

Another calculation that Saudi Arabia seems to have ignored is that Qatar might now find more reason for rebuilding and deepening an alliance with Iran. Qatari-Iranian disagreement over Syria notwithstanding, the two countries had good relations before the Syrian uprising began. And, with warmer relations between Iran and Qatar, there is a greater possibility that the Syrian crisis could end in some sort of power-sharing deal between the Assad regime and Muslim Brotherhood element in the opposition. Iran has always been keen on differentiating the Muslim Brotherhood type of Islamic republicanism from the Saudi Wahhabi Islam that discriminates against Shi’as. In Qatar, Iran can find a strategic partner with which it has less serious ideological problems. Qatar and Iran also share the world’s largest gas field, the South Pars/North Dome gas field (across the Persian Gulf), giving the two countries strategic economic reasons to strengthen relations. Indeed, they have been contemplating the establishment of a free trade zone between them. Further, Qatar’s Shi’a population remains significantly happier than Saudi Arabia’s. While not partners in the highest echelons of power, Qatari Shi’as are sufficiently integrated, economically and culturally, to not view their Qatari identity as a misfortune. In Qatar’s case, then, Iran does not feel the need to speak on behalf of an oppressed Shi’a population as it does with Saudi Arabia, an issue that plagues Iran-Saudi relations. Instead, Iranian and Qatari ethnic and sectarian differences present these countries with an opportunity to appear more liberal and friendly than Saudi Arabia.

Conclusion

As tensions increase in Qatar-Saudi relations, the very nature of the GCC is under threat. Furthermore, these tensions could potentially will lead to a realignment of regional forces in the Persian Gulf, and in the Middle East as a whole. Saudi Arabia, in building a bloc behind itself (composed of UAE and Bahrain), is pursuing its anti-Qatar policy at its own expense – giving reasons to Qatar, Iran and the USA to align more closely with each other and with smaller Gulf states like Kuwait and Oman. The just concluded Arab League summit provide no signs that these divisions might be minimised, and it is clear that both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have decided to stubbornly maintain their positions and not compromise. Given this, US president Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia carries immense significance, and could indicate what direction USA will take in responding to this clash, which could see one of these protagonists adjusting its position.

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Media Gallery

16 September 2019  

An Evening With Ramzy Baroud - Journalist /…

He has just recently written a book "The Last Earth - A Palestinian Story" which tell the stories of dispossession, exile, and loss of ordinary Palestinians.... but it is also about hope and residence...

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22 July 2019  

Sudan Seminar: Sudan struggling for democracy resisting…

Events in the Sudan since the ouster of long-time ruler Omar Al-Bashir have developed into a stalemate as protesters and military jostle for control.  With the army increasing using violence against t...

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14 June 2019  

Conference on Migration that AMEC co-hosted with the…

Throwback to May 15, when IFAS-Recherche had the pleasure to organise a conference hosted by specialists of migrations in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle-East.The first panel composed of Tanya Zack ...

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