The Saudi-Qatar saga:
The GCC, political mis-adventurism and terrorism
Dr Hamza Al Hassan *
Stephen Bell **
Dr Sami Ramadani ***
When you’re in a hole, stop digging! The sudden eruption of hostilities between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has turned into a regional crisis. The Saudis dragged Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain into the conflict. The Trump administration has exhibited a serious lack of leadership in the region as it failed to contain the crisis among America’s allies. It is struggling to balance its pro-Saudi stand with upholding the JASTA Act passed by the Congress last year. Other regional powers found themselves under pressure to take sides. Both Iran and Turkey have come to the rescue of Qatar, being the aggrieved party and the much smaller player in the realm of terrorism. Have the Saudis dug the grave of the Gulf Cooperation Council?
Date: Tuesday, 27th June 2017
Chairman Shabbir Rizwi: Salam Aleikum, welcome sisters and brothers, ladies and gentlemen. The programme this evening is about the Saudi-Qatar sage: The GCC, political mis adventurism and terrorism. The topic is obviously hot, its current, it obviously having a significant impact not only in the Gulf region but also globally. When you are in hole stop digging.
When you’re in a hole, stop digging! The sudden eruption of hostilities between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has turned into a regional crisis. The Saudis dragged Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain into the conflict. The Trump administration has exhibited a serious lack of leadership in the region as it failed to contain the crisis among America’s allies. It is struggling to balance its pro-Saudi stand with upholding the JASTA Act passed by the Congress last year. Other regional powers found themselves under pressure to take sides. Both Iran and Turkey have come to the rescue of Qatar, being the aggrieved party and the much smaller player in the realm of terrorism. Have the Saudis dug the grave of the Gulf Cooperation Council? (Not I dare say not of the Gulf Cultural Club but of the other GCC).
So what we have to look at is perhaps not just the geopolitical sense. I was just relating to our guest speaker that there was a full page article in The Observer over the weekend saying how noble and liberal Prince Salman is because he wants to liberalise the internal situation in Saudi Arabia saying that he wants women to drive cars. Apparently there was an opening of musical dramas and plays and just recently somewhere in Jeddah men and women danced together.
What is interesting is to look at the dynamics of the royal family within Saudi. Historically where ever there has been a monarchy there have been coup d’etats: fathers have killed sons, sons have killed fathers to occupy the position power. So that may be the opening gambit that is taking place in Saudi Arabia that a young prince wants to take the realm of power from his father. But what is also true as the Observer article pointed out is that he is young and a hot head. Perhaps his youth is taking him in a direction that could ignite a difficult situation for the region which no one may be able to control in the end. The role of America is obviously crucial as these things as you may all recall were triggered off after Mr Trump’s visit where 50 heads of state from the Muslim countries congregated to greet the royal family. And also the recent situation in Parachanel where 150 people got killed because of the relationship of the Pakistani ruling party (Nawaz Sherrif) has with the Saudis. He spent about eight years in exile there and his daughter has married in the royal household. So the repercussions are taking place everywhere and Parachanel is one of the places that has been fighting against the Islamist forces in Pakistan with the Taleban and other elements of that nature. So we have lots of things to discuss this evening.
Dr. Hamza Al Hassan: Ladies and gentlemen. Salam akeikum, Eid Mubarak. Thank you Dr Shehabi for inviting me to talk at this seminar. I know that maybe most of us have been taken by surprise at this political rupture in the Gulf which was unexpected. However we expected that these Gulf states are similar in political systems, similar in social fabric – all of them are allied to the United States. All of them have similar economies. So we expected that these countries are happy and have a good relationship and the Gulf Co-operation Council is the only regional council that is working.
But suddenly everything changed. The scale of the problem is so huge. The problem extended to the regional powers and we are expecting Turkish and Iranian intervention and others. Historically Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been very close politically and religiously and that is why we are surprised.
Also in history we know that Qatar helped the founder of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud to have good contacts with the British government in 1906, before he took Hejaz. He tried to have contact with the British Residency and Sheikh Hassan Al Thani, the grandfather of Sheikh Tamim tried to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Britain at that time. So there was a good relationship.
But since 1991 there was a small battle near the border. The Saudis tried to arrange a coup in 1996 and the Qataris also tried to help Saudi opposition groups. Al Jazeera contributed a lot in this conflict and maybe it’s one of the most important reasons that this channel caused the problem to this relationship. I can’t answer all the question about this conflict. My presentation is an attempt to understand what is going on. The most important thing is to predict the future. It is more important for us than anything else because most of you know about the details or heard about them in the news.
One of the question is: Why did this conflict result? Who is behind it? What are the aims of the participant states in this conflict? There are many states. First the United States and I presume that Trump gave the green light to the Saudis and the Emirates to initiate the problem after the Riyadh Conference. Trump just wanted to blackmail Qatar to pay more. This is the most important point.
The second point is that some of the political conduct of the Qataris is not welcome in the United States. All these countries and Gulf States helped Al Qaeda and ISIS somehow. But the Qataris continued their aid. They tried to reduce the amount of help that goes from Qatar to ISIS. We know that the
What happened with Al Jazeera? They attacked their office in Afghanistan and even in Iraq. Some Al Jazeera correspondents were imprisoned, even in Spain. So this is what the Americans wanted. They thought it is easy. Just ask these countries to do their dirty jobs. The Saudis and the Emirates have their own aims which are different from the American ones. What the Saudis wanted from this conflict was to impose their leadership on the GCC states. We know that Qatar for two decades refused to accept Saudi foreign policy whether towards Iran and sometimes towards Yemen and Sudan. They have conflicts these days about their attitudes towards the conflict in Libya.
But the Saudis usually say that they are the leaders of Arabs and Muslims and at the end of the day they can’t control one small Gulf state. It is important for them to impose that leadership. That is the most important thing.
There is also an economic factor. The Saudis wanted to create a problem, a huge one, and maybe that is why the Saudis might intervene militarily in Qatar, in order to bring the oil prices up. This is very important for the Saudis. It happened when America invaded Iraq. It happened several times in the last three decades.
Now the oil price has collapsed. It is less than 43 – the OPEC states are selling less than 40. So they are trying to make a bigger problem in the Gulf in order to raise the oil prices. This is the Gulf. This is the Saudis.
Of course the Emirates have something different. The Emirates accused Qatar of helping a small group of Muslim brothers. They put them in prison and the leaders of the UAE are afraid that Qatar might compete with the Emirates economically in the future. And that is why they are not happy with what the Qatartis are doing.
Egypt is suffering a lot from the Qataris. They contributed a lot to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and until now they are helping the Muslim Brotherhood and they might also help the military militants of Egypt. The media of Qatar, Al Jazeera, and other satellite channels funded by the Qataris are also attacking Egypt.
I think the Egyptian leaders wanted to stop that first and they also want some money from the Qataris at the end of the day. That is very obvious if you read the 13 conditions that have been submitted to the Qatari government by the rulers of Kuwait.
When it comes to Bahrain, Bahrain has no choice – it is only following the Saudis and the Emirates because these two countries are helping Bahrain militarily and economically. They have nothing to do with the Bahrainis.
Of course the Israelis are there even though we do not see them on the scene. They wanted to punish the Qataris and to cut funds from Hamas. This is the most important thing for the Israelis. And the Saudis are supporting that.
Of course there are many countries such as the Maldives, Mauritius Senegal and Niger who cut political ties with the Qataris in order to get some money from the Saudis. They got the price from the Saudis or they were afraid of Saudi punishment. Le Monde newspaper talked about it.
So there are different aims. Each state has its own aim. I am very convinced that the problem is not about the Qataris supporting ISIS or Al Qaeda because the Americans, are doing that. The Saudis are going that. And suddenly the Saudis are accused by America, even Trump himself. This is the state sponsoring terrorism.
Suddenly there is a fight with Qatar as it is the state funding terrorism. So what the Qataris did in the past and are doing today is the same. It is the same with the Saudis. The Saudis are more dangerous than the Qataris. The Saudis also accused Qatar of funding some military terrorist groups like Hezbollah, the Hutis in Yemen and most of that is not true. But they are funding Ikhwan Muslimin, yes.
The Saudis are unhappy about the good relationship between Qatar and Iran. Actually Qatar can’t be against Iran because they are sharing economic interests. And it is difficult for them. The Saudis accepted the same attitude from Oman which has more links and stronger ties with Iran then the Qataris. But they don’t accept it from the Qataris because the Qataris have their own political project. They have a vision. They want to be something. But the Kuwaitis no. They know their size, they are calm. The Omanis are the same.
If the Qataris did not have a political project for themselves I think the Saudis would not say anything. The Saudis also accused the Qataris of helping some groups inside Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and I think there is an exaggeration of this and I think this is totally untrue.
The Qataris also tried to be against Wahabism so they thought that they can control Wahabism as well as controlling the Ikwan Muslimeen, a branch of Sunni Islam.So they tried that. They have some connections with many Saudi clerics. They tried to play this. And the Saudi royal family in Saudi Arabia were awake – let us say alert – about this. They knew about it.
But the Saudis did the same. They tried to make a coup d’etat in Qatar, several times, twice at least. Ben Zayed of the Emirates also tried to make a coup in Oman. The Saudis themselves in 1993 tried to make a coup against Oman. So if you are accusing somebody of doing bad things to you you have to act and behave well. But the Saudis do the same. The Qataris do the same so you can’t blame the Qataris at the end of the day.
The question many are asking is will the Saudis succeed in this battle with Qatar? I don’t think so. One can bet that the Saudis are the losers. This is a lost war, exactly like the war of Yemen. Once this battle started I thought Saudis are crazy.
No matter what the result of this conflict is, the Saudis are losing. How can we figure out that the Saudis are loosing the battle against the Qataris? There are many reasons and I will try and go through them.
The first victim is the GCC. The Saudis are dictating their policies on the Gulf states through the GCC. The Saudis tried to unite the foreign policy towards all the states. The Omanis usually sign and say okay but they don’t apply it. They don’t practise it. The Qataris make a lot of noise and they said no and they do what they want to do.
If the Saudis win or not this council is already weak and the Saudis are talking about a council with three countries only. Saudi Arab, Emirates and Bahrain. So if the Saudis lost the tool of the GCC they look bad. They are going to lose their influence on the Gulf states.
Instead of Qatar threatening to leave the GCC, the Saudis are threatening to punish Qatar and throw it outside the doors of the GCC. The things they are trying to do look crazy. This is one important thing. If the Qataris left the GCC I think Kuwait and Oman will leave also. Anyhow the GCC is not that strong these days, it is not convincing and this conflict contributed a lot in weakening the GCC.
Second. This conflict has far reaching effects maybe for a generation. You can’t finish it like that. The Saudis used all inhumane policies, including personal attacks on the royal family in Qatar. The Saudis used all the cards they have in the early days of the conflict. They thought it is easy to break them and finish the war in a few days. They did the same thing in Yemen. They thought that in a few days we will solve the problem. The Saudis are doing the same thing.
So even if the American administration solves the problem in Camp David, the problem is what about all these lies and the instigations. They cannot disappear in one day and night. Even if the Qataris are defeated the Saudis are losing. In any political change in the future the Qataris will return to take revenge on the Saudis. This problem is going to be a very long conflict even if they solve it.
The Saudis also lost their credibility. Nobody thought that the Saudis would punish their neighbour Qatar and isolate it. To throw the Qataris out of Saudi Arabia, to humiliate them – all these lies. If you watch Saudi satellite TV or read the newspapers you will be astonished at the amount of lies and instigation against Qatar.
But the most important thing is that these policies of the Saudis did not convince the Saudis themselves or the citizens of the other Gulf states to support them. They lost their credibility, their image and influence also. The Saudis lost a lot in this battle.
This conflict brought a new and stronger player which is Turkey. There is Iran very close and very strong also – a new player. Turkey thought its entry into the conflict would reduce the influence of Saudi Arabia in the Gulf and in the Muslim world. So they are stupid. The Turkish foreign minister went to Saudi Arabia to solve the problem. Once he left after one hour you can see the social media which attacked the Turkish government and even now they are instigating the public not to go to Turkey for tourism, not to buy any Turkish goods and these things.
The Saudis may also use their influence in the Arab and Muslim world because of the conflict. Many countries are fed up of joining in Saudis continuous sectarian and political wars. Even Pakistan refused to join Saudi Arabia. Jordan was helpless but I am sure it is not happy to join the war. Morocco tried to modify it position because you can’t continue: every day you have a problem, every day you have a war with Iran, with Turkey, with Syria with Iraq and sometimes with Oman. Now they are attacking Oman and they are attacking Kuwait. They are saying you are with us or you are with the Qataris. And they told Nawaz Sharif this.
You can’t find more allies. You can’t find friends. Saudi Arabia has no real friends. Even the United States is not a real friend. Even France is not a real friend. And that is why we are expecting that Saudi is loosing its influence in the Arab and Muslim world and even internationally among the Europeans and the Americans. If you notice now if you see the attitude of Germany and France especially you will see the changes.
That is why I think Saudi Arabia is losing and I think America is losing too. The Americans are losing, the Saudis are losing and of course the Qataris. But what is next. You have a political impase now. The Kuwaiti mediation failed and the Americans tried to find a solution. They invited all of them to Camp David and I don’t think it will work because there is not enough time. There are only five days left. The Saudis gave an ultimatum to the Qataris – you have to apply these conditions in ten days or we will do something.
I suspect that will not happen. But if it happens Trump inflamed this problem and created it and he is the only one who can solve it by pressurising the Qataris and the Saudis. The Saudis and the Qataris are not happy to have half solutions. The Saudis usually want to break down the Qataris and finish the war. I think the other solution is that the Americans will give the Saudis the green light to invade Qatar.
The third option is to leave the problem as it is. The Saudis think that within nine months the Qataris will suffer. All these choices are open now. I think the military option is possible.
Stephen Bell: Salam akeikum and Eid Mubarek. I want to start with the events on May 21st when Trump addressed the Riyadh Summit. Most of his talk was an attack on Iran who he accused of decades of promoting sectarianism and called on nations of conscience, as he saw them, to isolate Iran and to create a government in Iran which Iran deserves, presumably a government which supports Donald Trump.
In his speech he managed 12 references to Saudi Arabia, most of them glowing. There is only one reference to Qatar. “Qatar”, this is what he said “which hosts the US Central Command is a crucial strategic partner.” Qatar is good because it provides a base for the Americans.
Three days later after midnight the website of the Qatar News Agency was hacked with claims that the Emir had been critical of Trump, supported Iran, was eager to work with Israel and wanted to promote unconditional support for Hamas. This is obviously a fairly bizarre combination of accusations. This was taken down within minutes. The Emir had made no statement during that day. But immediately the UAE stations and Sky News Arabia broadcast these false statements in a rolling coverage. There were twitter accounts which originated in the Emirates and in Egypt claiming to speak on behalf of the opposition in Qatar and claiming to speak as defecting soldiers. My understanding of that is that it was a coup attempt against Sheikh Tamim and essentially it was a failure. Immediately after this you had daily reports from Cairo, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism. There is no basis for this. This is pot calling the kettle black.
The impact of the blockade was in my opinion a response to that failure of an initiative to change the internal forces inside Qatar. The FBI said that the hack came from Russian sources but that does not tell as anything about who hired the hack. I think behind this is essentially promotion of Trump’s general hostility to Iran since coming to power which leads him to a very close relation with the Saudis.
Most notable is the change of policy in Yemen since the start of this year and a resumption of arms sales which Obama had kind of delayed, the massive increase in drone strikes and the use of US special forces in Yemen. All this has obviously encouraged the Saudis. It is in stark contrast to Obama’s proposal to try and establish a peace process and promote negotiations in Yemen.
I think at the Riyadh summit you saw a connection between the adventurism of what was then the deputy crown prince, Mohamed Bin Salman and Trump himself. Of course Mohamed bin Salman in May talked of taking the fight against Iran into Iran itself rather than waiting for it to occur, as he saw it, inside Saudi Arabia. You had a combination then of the adventurism of the now crown prince with Trump’s form of adventurism which is to make US policy internationally less predictable and more concealed.
I think we should pause for a minute and look at what is driving Trump. There is an economic logic sustaining Trump’s foreign policy. The US is the most indebted nation in the world. Their current account deficit was $469 billion in 2016 and for many years there has been a relative decline in American economic power. Since 1987 they have relied on Japanese funding to sustain the American debt. But the impact of this on the Japanese economy is that the Japanese economy has become absolutely exhausted and incapable of getting out of its long stagnation.
And so who is going to fund this debt of the Americans? We are talking about a situation since 2008, the onset of the major crisis when we had a slower recovery than after the great slump in 1929. The cumulative growth of the American economy is less in ten years since 2008 then between 1929 and 1939. This is a very good indication of how the American influence economically is declining.
The two states in the world which could fund the debt i.e. who have got a big trade surplus are China and Germany. So American policy is pretty much trying to weaken those states. When he came to power, Trump changed the one China policy by seeming to move towards a stronger relationship with Taiwan. On Germany it is clear Trump has acted in a relatively hostile manner towards the EU which is underpinning the whole German economy. Trump’s promotion of Brexit.
Does the Middle East then offer for Trump an opportunity to hedge against this debt? Prior to the collapse of the oil prices in 2013 the whole oil producing countries had a surplus which was worth 94% of the US debt. Today the same countries have a current account deficit of $142bn. So the impact of the oil crisis is extraordinary on the region.
But we are talking about a general stagnation of the world economy. So for the United States it makes sense to try and retain a very strong influence within the region on the basis when the commodity prices begin to rise again they may be able to draw upon the strategic reserve. It is already drawing on the strategic reserves judging by the Riyadh summit where there was an announcement of $400bn investments by the Saudis in the US. How much of that is real we shall see. Certainly some of the arms sales appeared subsequently not to be real or double accounting or previous commitments. But nevertheless, Saudi Arabia is the third largest investor in US treasury bonds – 750bn. So financially when America is that reduced
in its scope the relative significance of the region becomes clear.
The other thing is that there is clearly a very substantial difference inside the American ruling circles. Trump for example during the election campaign promoted a strategic alliance with Russia to resolve the question of Syria and similar conflicts.
Since he has become president there has been an uninterrupted campaign from within the American state apparatus to pressure him on these links to Russia and this is tained to a certain extent his preparedness to seek a strategic deal with Russia against China.
Now in the question of Qatar we see it is evident that the green light on this was given to the Saudis. Trump obviously did that. But if we compare the statements of Tillerson and Mattis and those of Trump it is clear that Trump is promoting the adventure while the American foreign policy consensus, as it were, inside the state is trying to pull him back on this.
So immediately after the imposition of the siege Trump claims that it was him who brought it about, virtually. A couple of days later the American State Department said :”We are mystified that the Gulf states have not released to the Qataris nor to the public, the details about which they claim they are making the demands. Doubts are raised about the actions taken by the Saudis and the UAE.
In other words there is reservation from the State Department. Trump however, on 9th June says: “The nature of Qatar has unfortunately historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level. We have to stop the funding of terrorism.” Quite explicit.
That is what Trump says. Meanwhile Tillerson was saying the same day: “The blockade is hindering US military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS. We ask that there be no further escalation by the parties of the region.” So there is serious conflict and three days after Trump’s statement in the Rose Garden Deputy Secretary Mattis signs a deal to sell $12bn of aircraft. Excuse me you are accusing somebody of funding terrorism but at the same time you are selling them a lot of weapons. This does not make sense unless you grasp that there is a very substantial conflict in the American foreign policy establishment.
The pressure than exerted itself as the blockading countries should explain what they are after. I think it is clear they are after regime change by another way, probably a direct coup having failed. That was the State Department’s pressure.
So we saw the 13 demands and the ultimatum. What sovereign state can deliver these demands? It cannot remain a sovereign state Ending diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran. Iran with whom Qatar is about to develop the largest gas field in the world. The moratorium on the development of that field expired in April this year and now it is agreed that the Qataris and the Iranians would jointly develop it. So obviously this is against US policy. It is against Saudi foreign policy as well. Ending the Turkish military presence. These demands are so provocative and, if anything, will deepen the reliance of Qatar on Turkey.
Serving ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, arguably the most popular political movement in the Arab world today. Underneath that is the role that Qatar has tried to create as mediating centre between various conflicts whether it is Afghanistan or elsewhere.
Handing over residents from Qatar to governments who are going to torture them. This is a breach of international obligations. Paying reparations and explicitly subordinating itself to the Saudis foreign policy. These are impossible demands. This is a demand for Qatar to become a vassal state of Saudi Arabia.
Obviously we are in an impasse. The Qatari Foreign Minister has made it explicit that there will be no negotiations until the blockade is lifted. The British position is very interesting because when you have a conflict within the American administration it makes it very difficult for a government like Britain which doggedly follows the American administration.
We have seen very little from the British government. Boris Johnson issued a fairly mundane press release: taking immediate steps to deescalate the current tension and find a rapid resolution through mediation. Very nice and nothing to sustain it.
But the edge enters immediately: “ I call on Qatar to take seriously their neighbours concerns. They urgently need to do more to address support for extremist groups.” Why id Johnson saying this to Qatar? Why is he not saying this to Saudi Arabia?
On 15th June Teresa May followed this up when she spoke with the leaders of a number of states (the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar). The press release indicated: “ the Prime Minister raised the ongoing isolation of Qatar.” Ongoing isolation? I thought it was a siege. But no it is isolation. It seems to have gotten itself into a position when no one wants to talk to it. “And call for all sides to urgently escalate dialogue, re-establish the GCC etc etc
Then ending up:”Qatar should continue to build on the progress to address the scourge of radicalism and terrorism in partnership with the Gulf allies.” Until yesterday that was the British position. Basically no impact, no distinguishing features at all.
Yesterday Boris Johnson indicated that the demands appeared unreasonable. That is understating matters. Meanwhile the EU explicitly opposed the blockade. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights has also made it clear that it is not acceptable.
I think the idea that you punish a whole population, both the 2.4 migrant workers resident in Qatar, the 300,000 Qatar citizens and all the Qatar residents from the besieging countries being forced out and Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia forcibly recalling all of their citizens from Qatar.
This is a catastrophic way to treat the population and has to be opposed. I hope we can avoid military action but with the adventurism in policy stimulating this, strategically they cannot make progress through this method. Then there may not be a mediation. There may be a further adventure which would be a complete disaster. Thank you.
Chairman: A new metaphor is emerging – instead of using the ‘pot calling the kettle black’ which has come into the parlance of the English language it is like McDonalds telling Burger King that you are selling food that is fattening. Or Coca Cola telling Pepsi that you are selling to much sugar in your Coke. These are new parlances to be used in this particular conflict.
Dr Sami Ramadani: Thank you very much for inviting me. I will start with your permission by playing something that Trump said about two days ago about his recent visit to Saudi Arabia.
“I have just returned from Saudi Arabia. It was a monumental trip because they said just recently you cannot continue to fund terrorism. You cannot continue to fund terrorism. The King of Saudi Arabia is a very special man. He is taking it to heart. And now they are taking it to other countries. And now we have countries that have been funding terrorism. I think we have a huge impact. We will see. But I think we have a tremendous impact. We cannot let these incredibly rich nations fund radical Islamic terrorism or terrorism of any kind. We cannot let it happen. It was one of three great days of my life. I am sure many of you watching it on television. : 54 Muslim nations coming together some immensely wealthy and powerful nations. Everybody in that room was unified and those that were not we are trying to get them to be unified and to do the right thing. I think it could have a tremendous impact.”
I think that is enough of Trump. He was very honest. I played this to stress that the United States policy in the Middle East is based on grabbing the wealth of one of the richest areas in the world. There are trillions of dollars worth of wealth in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia plays a very critical role in terms of US policy to grab that wealth, specifically in the case of Saudi Arabia – the question is of the oil wealth.
Qatar has the second largest gas reserves in the world and some put them as number one in the world. So Qatar is also very critical in terms of the amount of wealth they control in terms of natural gas.
Saudi Arabia is also critical because the United States decided decades ago, specifically after World War II, to give Saudi Arabia a leading role in the Islamic world. Because of the presence of Mecca and the holy sites in the Arabian Peninsula the United States made a conscious decision to have Saudi Arabia play a leading role in the Islamic world. It was Eisenhower who pressed the then Saudi King to set up the World Islamic Organisation and for Saudi Arabia to lead it.
When Trump in the clip I played referred to the presence of 54 Muslim countries he is harking back to that same strategy of making Saudi Arabia play a very dominant, active role across the Muslim world. He said that obviously not because he loves the Saudi king. For people like Trump and US strategists they are mere stooges whom they actually despise. They have no respect for them whatsoever.
How can you respect the king of a country and talk to them in the language that Trump does. These countries are funding terrorism and I told them to stop it and I told them as well give me hundreds of billions of dollars. I think that is the actuality of the situation. They treat them like the political stooges that they are.
Saudi Arabia in terms of the leadership that the United States gave to it after WW2 – their main mission in the Muslim world was to stop nationalist and socialist forces and Islamic movements that had anti- imperialist dimensions to them. These were the three types of political forces that the United States was extremely worried about: nationalism, anti-imperialist nationalism, socialist forces and Islamic forces that had an anti imperialist agenda against US domination in the world.
In that Saudi Arabia played a major role but a quiet role. Saudi Arabia was never known until recent years to come out publically and state positions publically: they always worked silently through financial control of political organisations, of political leaders and generally quietly promoted the US line in the Arab and Muslim world.
Now in recent years especially with the collapse of the Mubarak regime, the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia, the uprising in Bahrain, the movement for proper independence in Yemen – all of these developments frightened the Saudi royal family in two ways. One in that these popular movements have become extremely strong, even little Bahrain with its brave people is challenging a ruling family with whom the Saudi rulers have close links; the Yemeni people staged massive demonstrations and uprising, the collapse of Ben Ali and Mubarak have frightened the Saudi royal family. But on the other hand they were also frightened that the United States could actually ditch them or replace them. The question of staging coups or bringing one set or princes to replace another is not unknown in the history of the Saudi royal family factions. This happens also to Qatar with the USA encouraging certain princes over others.
The elevation today of Muhamed, making him Crown prince to Salman to the king is also very much a US move because the US does favour Mohamed bin Salman. This is on the record: he studied in the USA and has very close links, political and cultural in every sense with the US establishment and US business. This is a kind of consolidation and obviously to appease the Saudis the USA under Trump are letting the Saudis go ahead with suppressing all the surrounding Gulf states, suppressing any political ambitions whether it is by the Qatari ruler or the ruler of Kuwait or Oman or the Emirates and destroying Yemen and continuing their occupation of the Bahraini people.
In return for that they have to pay a ransom and the ransom is the £450billion that the Saudi royal family has promised to pay the USA. There are rumours that Qatar agreed to pay its own ransom money. When Timim went back to Qatar he retreated from paying the full sum and he wanted to renegotiate how much Qatar would pay. But these are not confirmed reports. These are some of what the Western media are talking about.
An important factor also between Saudi Arabia and Qatar is the question of gas. The presence of a Turkish base now in Qatar is related to a Qatari project to build a pipeline from Qatar all the way to Turkey. There were two alternative projects. One of them was to go only through Syria and one of them was to go through Syria and Turkey. This is why Turkey stood by the Qatari rulers in return for Qatar giving Turkey some concessions in terms of the gas supplies and also in the hope that they would establish that gas pipeline through Turkey.
One of the reasons Qatar was very keen on regime change in Syria and backing the opposition groups was precisely that pipeline again because the Syrian government rejected the project and this prompted the Qataris to pay. According to the Financial Times, Qatar paid the Syrian opposition groups to overthrow the government. They paid between 2011 and 2013 $3billion. How can you spend $3billion within two years on opposition groups?
This is excluding what the Saudis paid. And you can see the conflict between the Qatari ruling family and the Saudi ruling family. Qatar wanted to establish an independent role in terms of domination of certain political groups and Qatar acted mainly through the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Arab world and Muslim world, including Turkey.
The Saudis used to be the main financiers of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is historically true but after the collapse of the Soviet Union and by the mid 1990s Saudi Arabia stopped funding the Muslim Brotherhood. They don’t need them anymore. The nationalist movements were weak, the socialist movements were destroyed across the Arab and Muslim world. The Soviet Union collapsed. They stopped funding them in a big way. Qatar immediately took over.
Al Jazeera was established. Some of the main editors of Al Jazeera were themselves linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera became the main propaganda tool of the Muslim Brotherhood – as long as they did not criticise the Qatari regime they were given a free hand in terms of the policy in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. The destruction of Libya was part of the same project as was Syria and Iraq. There are political forces in Iraq, I am not going to go into too many details, which are directly linked to Qatar and other political forces which are directly linked to Saudi. You can see on the Iraqi scene how the two political groups compete. Similarly in Syria with the Saudis backing some organisations while the Syrians back others. Part of the conflict in Libya is between the Qatari funded groups and the Saudi-funded groups. So you can see this scenario of conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
A Jazeera itself was a BBC project originally. It was a Saudi BBC project. Saudi Arabia wanted to put a condition on the project that they establish a centre in Rome to censor the material before it comes out. This contradicts the charter of the BBC. Saudi Arabia insisted on this and the BBC withdrew. Once it withdrew, Saudi Arabia also withdrew and the project collapsed. Qatar then immediately took it up, brought in some BBC broadcasters and others and employed them and with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood managed to kick out Al Jazeera.
It started paying quite a major role because it took up popular agendas in Egypt against Mubarak, in Syria against dictatorship – even in Iraq against the war on Iraq because this was in line also with the Muslim Brotherhood agenda at the time. But they wanted to create a space where they could dominate and control and once they moved on to Syria it became quite clear that they cannot overthrow the Syrian government without an alliance with the groups that want to co-operate with Israel without an alliance with Turkey. So Turkey became the strategic base for military operations against Syria.
In terms of the global out look let us see how Saudi Arabia has in recent years started taking adventurist points. They became quite adventurist in their foreign policy out of fear. It is out of desperation. They feel threatened so any form of deviation from Saudi control became quite frightening.
In Yemen they saw how this mass movement was developing. That immediately frightened them because a question of dominating the Arabian Peninsula in general is quite critical to Saudi policy and with Qatar also acquiring such an important space politically and economically again we could see why they are worried and frightened.
The uprising in Bahrain actually was extremely worrying to the Saudi royal family. They felt genuinely threatened that such a small, brave country could acquire true independence and become a democratic state. That terrified them as well, that is why they moved very quickly, with the blessing of the USA, to intervene and crush the people’s uprising in Bahrain.
I want to highlight the question of the importance of Wahabbism. Whatever we see in terms of how these Wahabist terrorist groups, whether in Syria or in Iraq operate in the way they cut people’s throats, chop people’s arms, throw people from high buildings, is actually practised by the Saudi regime.
There is nothing that the likes of ISIS or Al Nusra Front in Syria do in terms of suppressing the people they control, in terms of the brutality the exhibit which is not actually practised in Saudi Arabia.
These are versions of Wahabism. The Saudi state adheres to Wahabism and the question of chopping people’s arms legs, chopping people’s heads on Friday is common practise and what ISIS and Al Nusra do in Syria and in Iraq is in line with that vision.
Previously Saudi Arabia was happy to fund groups Islamist and others, even secular groups, without putting the condition that they have to adhere to Wahabism. In the last ten years or so a new type of approach was adopted by the Saudi regime which is to impose a Wahabist, Salafist type on the groups they support.
In Egypt they set up a party called Hizib Nour. Hizib Nour and Egypt has never been Wahabist. It has always been a sort of a moderate Sunni type following Al Azhar. But Al Nour, as opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, started spreading Wahabi type ideology. They set up similar groups in Libya, in Iraq, in Syria and so on.
So you could see that ideologically and politically they also started imposing a religious framework, a very violent sectarian type framework because they thought, and they still think, and this is really quite dangerous, that the best way of establishing a strong foothold. And this ideology is, by the way, shared by Qatar as well. Maybe Qatar might change now that they get their food from Iran. That think they should play the sectarian card, the anti Shia card. So Mubarak in Egypt, King Abudllah in Jordan, Hariri in Lebanon and Bandar bin Sultan and so on, all agree that the best way to do it is to play the sectarian card in a big way. That agreement was reached in 2006.
Feldman the Undersecretary of State in the United States met with Hariri and Bandar Bin Sultan and they specifically agreed and wrote it down that they need to encourage so-called extremist Sunni extremist organisations against the dangers from Iran and Hezbollah and the Syrian government. So this became a kind of official corner stone policy in 2006 to encourage Wahabi extremist, Sunni type organisations both in Iraq and later on in Syria.
Iraq was critical because the Iraqi people’s resistance against the US occupation was rising rapidly and the United States actually felt in great danger. So they said okay we will encourage Al Qaeda. We will encourage all these extremist organisations because these organisations are going to go and kill other Iraqis. They are not going to direct their weapons against the US occupation forces. So the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar started encouraging these groups in a big way and they started gradually penetrating Syrian society along similar lines.
The question of Syria is also extremely critical because without Syria Israel will dominate the region completely. With Lebanon, Syria is the remaining corner stone of resistance to Israeli domination. Egypt reached its peace under Sadat, Syria refused. Jordan has always been at peace with Israel. What is left is Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Syrian government.
Syria insists that the whole of the Golan Heights must return and they will never have peace with Israel unless the entire Golan heights are returned and also certain rights of the Palestinian people are established. And obviously they started supplying arms to Hezbollah. Some supplies come from Iran but Syria plays a major role in terms of armaments to Hezbollah to resist Israeli attempts to occupy the Lebanon which they did a couple of times in terms of attacking Lebanon.
Syria was also instrumental in terms of supplying weapons and arms to Hamas so Syria became very critical. So you have Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, USA, Britain and France in a combined attack to overthrow the Syrian government. Syria has created a huge buffer zone along the Golan Heights supplying Al Qaeda linked forces all along the Golan Heights.
Saudi Arabia is now semi publically working with Israel in terms of co-ordinating their policies for the entire Middle East. So we are evolving into a period where the United States is trying to give a leading role, again to Saudi Arabia, in return for ransom money and in return for co-operation with Israel to crush all possible resistance to US and Israeli domination of the region. I will stop here.
* Dr. Hamza Al Hassan is a political analyst, researcher and editor with a satellite channel. He holds a PhD in Political Science (United Kingdom), is an editor at the Gulf Issues Centre (London), a political activist, and is interested in human rights. He published a collection of books, researches and readings. He is also the founder and former Chief-editor of the Oasis Quarter Journal on the Gulf, and the former Chief‐editor of the Issues of Saudi Arabia magazine.
** Stephen Bell is the National Treasurer of the Stop the War Coalition and Campaigns Officer for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He is a member of the Labour Party. He also comments on events on radio and television programmes, takes part in political debates and campaigns for human and labour rights.
*** Dr Sami Ramadani is a senior lecturer in Sociology. He worked at the London Metropolitan University and other institutions. Sami was born in Iraq and became an exile from Saddam Hussein’s regime in 1969. He is a contributor to “The Guardian” on Iraq and the Middle East. He is a member of the Steering Committee of the Stop the War Coalition. He opposed Saddam’s regime, but campaigned against the war of aggression on his country and opposed the sanctions imposed on the Iraqi people (1991-2003).