There’s No Space for Qatar to Save Face

Last week, Saudi Arabia and its allies outlined their list of demands that Qatar would need to fulfill in order to end the worst crisis in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) since its establishment in 1981. The 13 demands, confirmed by multiple Gulf media outlets and by foreign ministry officials from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, are too sweeping for Qatar to accept without a 180-degree change in its foreign policy.

Nor is the anti-Qatar quartet — namely Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt — necessarily expecting a quick compromise that resolves the crisis. Rather, they appear to be digging in for an extended conflict with their Gulf neighbor. Their demands included requirements that Doha pay compensation to them for any losses incurred due to Qatari foreign policy and to completely shut down Al Jazeera — extreme steps that suggest the four countries are not interested in negotiation at this point.

Even if the five countries reach a settlement, the wounds caused during the row are too deep to heal in the coming years. Asked whether this meant the end of the GCC, a senior Gulf official replied: “Yes. Unless Qatar complies with the demands 100 percent.”

The roots of the quarrel can be traced to the 1995 coup in Doha, which saw the rise of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Sheikh Hamad ousted his father, whom he regarded as a puppet to the Saudis, and pursued an independent policy that broke away from his country’s larger neighbor, as Qatar began to use its abundance of gas to modernize the country and expand its influence regionally and internationally. Saudi Arabia unsuccessfully backed a comeback attempt by the ousted emir the following year, and the relationship went downhill from there.

From a Qatari perspective, Doha seeks to retain an independent policy that does not necessarily impinge on the interests of its neighbors but is also not linked at the hip with the GCC. Qatar also says its threshold for what it considers extremism differs from those of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, most notably with regards to groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Syrian organization Ahrar al-Sham. Saudi Arabia and the UAE counter that Qatar has deliberately supported individuals, groups, and media outlets that directly threaten the security and stability of their societies. They cite Oman as a counterexample of a GCC country with an independent policy, which includes close ties with Iran, but one that does not threaten their stability. To them,…

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