Whose side is the US secretary of state taking in the Gulf rift?
When the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets the angry minsters of the quartet — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain — he will find himself facing governments that have already made a decision. The region is in dangerous turmoil, and so we do not expect the four countries to back down after declaring their decision to hold Doha to account via the boycott.
The statements, and implications, of the secretary of state’s speech at his press conference in Doha do not encourage optimism; rather they reflect an oversimplification of the issue from his side. He jumped to a quick solution by signing a memorandum in which Doha pledged to fight terrorism. What an achievement!
Qatar tried to manipulate him by diverting attention from the real reasons for the dispute and protesting insubstantial matters. Consider the release of Qatar’s secret commitments under the Riyadh Accords, the documents of which were leaked to CNN causing embarrassment to the Qataris. The documents exposed the fact that what Qatar is saying in the international media contradicts its confidential agreements. Of course, Qatar is the one to blame here as it is the one that began the “war of leaks” after it revealed the confidential content of the Anti-Terror Quartet’s (ATQ) message to the Kuwaiti mediators, which included 13 demands. This leak by Doha marked an attempt to embarrass the quartet.
What makes Wednesday’s meeting in Jeddah difficult is that Tillerson has, since the beginning of the crisis, appeared to be taking the Qatari side. There were further doubts after Tillerson made a hasty judgment in stating that Qatar’s demands are reasonable, even before hearing the other side! The secretary of state can take Qatar’s side if he wants to, but he has to realize that he will be further complicating an already complex matter and prolonging the crisis.
How will Rex Tillerson convince the four countries fighting wars for their existence to reconcile with Qatar?
The four countries have suffered bloodshed as well as financial and political damage resulting from Qatar’s activities. The ATQ has conclusively decided, especially after recent developments, that it sees a direct targeting of the four countries’ governments. Tillerson cannot impose reconciliation, but he could reduce the distance between the parties in the diplomatic rift — all of which are his allies — rather than taking the side of one against the other, especially given that Qatar is the one which has failed several times to fulfill its pledges.
Tension will increase as long as the authorities in Doha refuse to change — and we know how Doha thinks and circumvents; we are aware that it does not intend to change under normal circumstances. The ATQ will also not back down, because it sees itself as defending its existence in a chaotic region, and will never accept Qatar threatening its existence.
There is a goal in this crisis to deter Qatar, and eliminate its agenda of “change.” Without completing this mission, the four countries can never guarantee their own existence and stability. Egypt is in the middle of the biggest war against terrorism in its recent history, and Qatar is considered an effective supporter of terrorist groups there, providing secret financial aid and public propaganda through its media outlets, helping justify the acts of those groups and incite the public to rebel against the Egyptian government.
Saudi Arabia is subject to similar dangers, in which Qatar has also played a role. The UAE shares the same position, and reacted early on when it followed a strict policy dealing with certain groups and their ideologies. Bahrain’s suffering is huge — and Qatar is responsible.
How will the US secretary of state convince the four countries fighting wars for their existence to reconcile with the party responsible? And for how long will the “goodwill test,” which Qatar failed several times, continue?
Countries of the quartet are not the only ones that seek to deter Qatar. Most countries in the region, and out of it, have a similar stance given that they consider Doha responsible for disseminating chaos, extremism and terrorism. Tillerson can save Qatar from itself, by stopping it continuing its activities — before it suffers the consequences.
• 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.