OPINION: Why are we enraged at Qatar? — A brief history about happened between Saudi and Qatar

by Sultan Alsaad Alqahtani

The Qatari problem is their misfortune…

The Saudi-Qatari controversy, which has turned into a Gulf-Qatari conflict, has been widely expected, but analysts did not expect it to be so intense that Riyadh threatened to close its sea and land borders as well as airspace with Qatar, according to an official letter delivered by Saud Al-Faisal to a Gulf official.

Al-Faisal met with the Kuwaiti Prince in New York and asked him to suspend Qatar’s membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as part of a series of sanctions that Riyadh decided to inflict. The Emir of Kuwait said he would meet Tamim because he was also in New York and was going to discuss all the points that aroused the Saudi concerns. For health reasons, the expected meeting between the Emirs of Kuwait and Qatar in New York was not held. Before returning to Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah visited London and told those he met there that the Gulfists would inevitably punish Qatar for interfering in their internal affairs.

The Emir of Kuwait tried to mediate, but the Saudis were decisive: We shall not receive any Qatari official, and we want actions, because we have had enough of statements throughout the past years. The Emir of Kuwait then brought the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim, on his private jet and had a meeting with King Abdullah. This meeting was not successful because the Saudis are no longer satisfied with Qatari speeches. The jet could have never landed in Riyadh if not for the presence of the Emir of Kuwait and his credibility as a veteran Gulf diplomat.  

The Saudis have a thorough list of what Doha has done, and at the top of it is a recording, which was a major diplomatic scandal that led to the expulsion of a number of security personnel in Qatar. A Libyan official, Mohammed al-Qashat, handed the Saudi intelligence service a copy of that recording of a conversation between Hamad bin Jassim and Gaddafi, in which they discussed a plan to divide Saudi Arabia. The Qataris admitted this, saying that it was no more than a talk with Gaddafi, the “moron”.

Yes, this is what the Qatari official said about Gaddafi when he apologized to the Saudis with a confused smile.

The Qatari problem is their misfortune. Everything they have done against Saudi Arabia has been quickly discovered. At a meeting in Marbella, the man representing the Saudi government, Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, handed them a list of all the sums they had paid the opposition. In Yemen, their movements were more exposed than they thought. They decided to use the “ransom operations” of abducted foreigners as a secret channel of funding for the Houthis. However, many Saudi allies in Yemen discovered it and reported it to Riyadh. In their letters to the Saudis in recent months, the Qataris have officially defended their position, saying they paid only $50,000 for the release of two French hostages.

The most surprising thing was that the Qataris tried to infiltrate the royal family by financially supporting members of the Saud family, but they failed.

Riyadh knows that Qatar represents several different projects under the direction of Prince Hamad, and that the American and Israeli alliances aim at forming Grand Qatar, the ruler of oil and gas. Add to that the psychological state of the “Father Emir”, from which he has not been able to recover for years. The troubled relationship with his father, his lost childhood years in which he was ostracized by the family for being “overweight”—later this would prove to be the secret of his ambiguous relationship with his eldest son Meshaal. The father sees in Meshaal his old self-image, the overweight problem, then the ostracism by the family, and other things that cannot be told. He has always avoided questions regarding Meshaal, to the extent that has convinced questioners that this subject troubles the Prince, and therefore they must avoid it. 

The discovery of gas, the enormous financial wealth of his country, and its relations with some powerful figures in Washington and Israel was not enough for Hamad and did bring him the desired internal peace. His actions suggest that he is trying to prove something to someone, perhaps that he can be a rival, and that he can be the ruler who has the final say in history, an influential player, such as the Knights of Al Saud, who have ruled the Arabian Peninsula in rotation for more than two hundred and seventy years.

His grandfather Qasim al-Kabeer was more of a representative of the Saudis in Qatar, and they kept him as a governor under their protection, although his country was an old territory that belonged to Al-Khalifa, who had migrated to Bahrain.

On the other hand, he thought that his country was led by its great neighbour. Years before his coup, his deposed father opened up to the Saudis, secretly, about his willingness to change the crown prince and to put his son, Abdulaziz bin Khalifa al-Thani, in his place. Abdulaziz was a widely respected figure in the Gulf, and the Saudis appreciated him greatly. But King Fahd’s conservative character was against such a change. Abdulaziz thought that messengers came from Riyadh to Doha with the good news, but he was shocked by Saudi rejection.

However, relations have developed considerably. Then Abdulaziz Bin Khalifa kept moving between Riyadh and Paris, especially after the coup against his father, Sheikh Khalifa, during their overseas trip.

In a meeting with the late Saudi Prince Nayef, Tamim heard the same story. Nayef, with his usually frank style, kept reminding him, “If not for us, you would not be sitting here in front of me, Tamim.” Then he recounted the previous story. The Qataris used to recognize their mistakes and apologize many times for them, but when their plane left Riyadh, they returned to the same actions. The Saudi patience is intriguing for those who are not experienced with politics and those who have no clue about how real politicians act. Did not this silence previously delude Nasser, Gadhafi, and Assad? Then they crashed on the same rock, which they thought was weak. The Saudis tend to be patient until there is no room for it, and then the qualities of the bloodthirsty man of the desert appear, seeking revenge.

In his early years, Hamad al-Thani was inclined to the Baath and Arab nationalism, perhaps because of the influence of his uncle, Al Attiyah, who embraced him with great kindness and attention, or to spite his father, who did not recognize his abilities earlier. After Nasser’s defeat in 1967, Hamad paid a great deal of attention to the Muslim Brotherhood. From there the idea developed in the context of his desire to turn it into a great idea through which he could rule the Arab world.

Speaking to a Gulf mediator, Hamad talked about his border dispute with Saudi Arabia: “I want that land; the graves of my ancestors are in it.” The khaleeji, who was a veteran politician, said: “My ancestors have graves in the Zubarah region. Shall I call it a territory for me to rule?” This smart reply made the Sheikh angry, since Zubarah is the base of Al-Thani and the core of Qatar.

Many believe Hamad bin Jassim, the former Qatari foreign minister, is the reason for the change in Qatar’s foreign policy, but no one understands how complicated the relationship between the two Hamads is. The two know that what they have in common shall not continue, and one day they will devour each other. This is why Hamad, under the pressure of the elegant lady of the palace, the well-educated Sheikha Mozah, accepted her demands to hand over the throne to her son while he is still alive. Sheikha Mozah cannot stand Hamad bin Jassim, who is apprehensive about her, but there is nothing he can do. He is attached by default to his prince; he has no alternative but to be a travel partner to the Father Prince.

In private sessions, Gulf politicians say that Prince Hamad used to mock Minister Hamad, even insulting him sometimes. The Prince is usually stunned by the minister’s reaction of pure silence, despite the almost painful insults. Those who do not know Hamad bin Jassim will be surprised, but those who know him well know that he is Machiavellian. A senior Gulf politician said to him in one of the Gulf meetings, “You are just followers of America and Israel.” Hamad responded calmly, “We are your followers, your highness.”

Since the coup, observers have noticed that Qatar is pursuing a policy of no policy. It has no rules governing its politics. It is a counter-movement to everything that Saudi Arabia does, to the extent that it has financed opposing factions in Yemen and Syria, just to annoy Riyadh.

But will this policy of no policy continue forever?

That is impossible.

Working against history lessons will never succeed, no matter how tempting the initial successes are.

The article is republished by TheRiyadhPost.