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Qatar: The purpose behind escalation

Qatar’s foreign minister has disclosed his government’s concern that the purpose of the boycott by the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ) is regime-change. But the rest of Qatar’s officials and its state media continue to express the belief that the aim is to change Doha’s policies and acts, boasting that this will not happen. Do the ATQ states —  Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — seek to change Qatar’s regime or attitude?

Political tensions have reached unprecedented levels. Qatar should carefully read the messages from the governments of Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Doha might be confused about the meanings of the messages, but it surely knows that countries rarely express what they really want, relying instead on familiar rules of diplomacy to express themselves.

Since the first week of the boycott, confusion surfaced in Doha, which sought Turkey’s help and communicated with Washington to explore its position since Qatar hosts two US military bases. Doha also accelerated its cooperation with Tehran, fearing a military act.

A month later, Qatar focused on media confrontation instead of military defenses to respond to accusations that it backs international terrorism and is destabilizing Arab states. These charges were endorsed by major countries, including the US. Despite the Qatari foreign minister’s expressed concerns about regime-change, there has been no military mobilization or maneuvers by Doha.

Doha is now under close international scrutiny in light of the serious accusations of financing and supporting terrorism. Only Turkey stands by its side, but Doha knows Ankara will follow its interests, as it did with Russia and Iran.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

No threats have been made against Qatar except for the boycott, which is a means to express differences between countries. It does not add up to the accusations made by the Qatari minister. The aim of the boycott — or the blockade, as Doha calls it — cannot be regime-change because Qatar is not besieged.

Its alleged suffering has been ridiculed because its airport and port are working, and shelves are stocked with all kinds of foods, including luxuries such as salmon and caviar. With two giant cargo aircraft daily, Qatar can easily meet citizens’ needs of food and medicine. You cannot topple a government that has $170 billion in foreign banks — equivalent to Jordan’s budget for 15 years — by boycotting it economically.

The four states’ rage reflects that of the whole region, which sees Qatar as a threat to security and stability because for years it has been managing political change and backing extremist Islamist groups. By force of arms, Doha brought some of these groups to power, such as in Egypt. It sought to impose extremist terrorist groups in volatile areas such as Libya and Syria, favoring them over moderate groups.

There were high hopes that Qatar’s policy of supporting Islamist armed groups and intervening in other countries’ affairs would change with former Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani handing power to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. There was optimism that a new Qatar would follow the path of other Gulf states in dedicating itself to local development. But four years have passed and its policies have not changed.

Due to the boycott, for the first time Qatar has found itself in the eye of the storm. It is now under close international scrutiny in light of the serious accusations of financing and supporting terrorism. Only Turkey stands by its side, but Doha knows Ankara will follow its interests, as it did with Russia and Iran. Qatar’s bad reputation will weaken it with time and with continued confrontations.

 

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.