Doha Will Not Accept Riyadh’s Leadership Role
August 31st, 2013 - by Sara Massoumi
Recently, relations between Doha and Riyadh have turned sour. The two countries, which demanded Assad’s removal immediately after the beginning of the unrests in Syria, are now faced with a conflict of common interests in the Middle East. The coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt created hopes for the Qataris that this movement would also succeed in Syria. This was while the Muslim Brotherhood is considered as the red line not only in Riyadh but also in any other Arab country. The al-Saud regime, which is faced with public dissatisfaction inside the country, is seriously afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood movement which could be a model for dissatisfied Shiites in this country. Meanwhile, the sudden change of power in Qatar led to the reduction of this country’s role in the political chess game in Syria and many analysts reported that the role played by Qatar in Syria was given to Saudi Arabia by the US. The advancement of the Saudi project in Egypt and the military coup launched against the government of Mohammad Morsi have now caused these two countries, which are members of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, to stand on opposite sides. The following is an interview with Dr. Mehran Kamrava, Director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, where we asked him about Doha-Riyadh relations and other issues Doha is dealing with in the region.
After a few months since Amir Tamim came to power, can it be said that there have been changes in the government’s new domestic and foreign policies?
With only two months having passed since the ascension of the new emir, it is still too early to say. But it appears that Qatar is slowly shifting its foreign policy to follow a more nuanced and carefully calibrated foreign policy in which it is less eager to involve itself in regional and international adventures. In domestic politics, there appears to be greater emphasis on security matters, on issues of cultural authenticity, and on matters related to Qatari culture and heritage.
Some analysts claim that domestic policy in Qatar is somehow divided, where those who support the Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, and are backed by Sheikh Hamad are competing against those who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood and are inclined towards the West and are aligned with the policies of Saudi Arabia. This rivalry has led to a new equation in the Qatari circle of power. Is this a correct interpretation?
It is not accurate to say that there are different factions in Qatar. There are certainly no factions around the issue of support for the Muslim Brotherhood. There are various opinions within the Qatari political establishment, but, at least from the outside, it appears that the Qataris are all on the same page and that all of them agree on the contours of the policies that the system follows.
Following recent developments in Egypt and the removal of Mohammad Morsi, the president of this country, the assessment was made that the Saudi-UAE-Kuwait security line planned the overthrow of Morsi with the leadership of Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz and the cooperation of the CIA while attempting to destroy and oppose the Qatar-Turkey support line for the Muslim Brotherhood. Do you agree with such an assessment?
There is no doubt that the United States gave its approval to the Egyptian military for the removal of President Morsi. This was meant to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood is forced out of political power, in Egypt and elsewhere. The primary focus was internal Egyptian politics, rather than regional rivalry between the various states across the Middle East. There is no doubt, of course, that Qatar and Turkey have found themselves on the losing end of the developments in Egypt. But the impetus behind the coup was domestic Egyptian politics--Morsi's inability to compromise with the British military--rather than regional competition.
Do you agree with the analysis that the policies of Qatar in Mali, Libya, and Syria have failed? Those who express such an opinion reiterate the fact that the same failures led to the resignation of Sheikh Hamad and the reduction of Qatar’s regional role.
Qatar thought it could influence the course of events in these countries relatively quickly, and easily. It is discovering that this is not the case at all. There is great resentment toward Qatar among the general public in Libya. In Syria, Qatar's hope for a quick downfall of the Assad regime has not materialized, and the Syrian civil war is turning into a quagmire for the parties involved. So, in some ways, Qatar's regional strategy has encountered serious setbacks.
Can it be said that the new government in Qatar seeks close relations with Saudi Arabia and accepts this country’s strategic management in different regional affairs in order to maintain its status under the shadow of Saudi Arabia’s management?
It is too early to try and figure out what the nature of the relationship is between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. But, given the built-in competition between these two states, it appears unlikely that Qatar's new leadership would follow Saudi lead in regional and international matters.
How would you assess the future of relations between Qatar and Turkey?
Turkey is an important regional player, and a large and expansive market in which there are many investment opportunities. Also, Turkish companies have made great headways in the infrastructural development of the countries of the Persian Gulf in general and Qatar in particular. Therefore, I think the string commercial relationship between these two countries will continue. Diplomatically, while they may not necessarily remain allies, they are likely to remain friendly because of practical considerations.
Can it be said that due to the reduction of Qatar and Turkey’s political and financial support, the Muslim Brotherhood has moved towards annihilation and that its recent downfall in Egypt and its removal from political equations in Syria is a result of this?
The decline of the Muslim brotherhood is not necessarily because its funding from Qatar is cut off but because its leaders are being arrested, and also because a significant portion of Egyptian public opinion has turned against it. The developments in the region, and especially the developments in Syria, are only of marginal importance in terms of what is happening in Egypt.