“Pots and Kettles” in the Middle East

Middle East Map

Originally from the Dorchester People for Peace weekly update, 6/9/17

Most Americans – even avid news followers – are probably confused by recent disputes among the Arab petro-monarchies, which are all nominally members of the same Gulf Cooperation Council alliance (GCC). Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), joined by Egypt, have broken diplomatic relations with Qatar and placed the tiny but natural gas-rich Persian Gulf emirate under virtual siege. Qatar, with a citizen population of only 200,000 – along with 2 million expatriate workers – is vulnerable because, as a peninsula adjoining Saudi Arabia, it depends for most of its food and other imports on the now closed border. Turkey, Russia and Iran have offered to supply Qatar by air or sea. (Turkey is also preparing to send troops to defend Qatar.)

Saudi Arabia and its allies charge that Qatar is “financing terrorists” around the Arab-speaking world. But of course Saudi Arabia is a well-known promoter of the extremist Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and is a backer of its own violent proxies in Syria and elsewhere. What’s really going on?

Qatar (with its ally Turkey) and the Saudi block both support violent religious extremists, but different brands. Qatar backs the Muslim Brotherhood, which in some countries seeks to gain power through elections and is anti-monarchist in general – clearly dangerous to Saudi Arabia and its allies. Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV was a cheerleader for the Arab Spring uprisings – despite autocratic rule in its home country.

Muddle EastIn Syria, the two sides support rival violent jihadist groups.  Qatar and Turkey also maintain commercial and political relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which the Saudi-led coalition fiercely opposes on political and sectarian grounds — with encouragement from the Trump administration. (Iran itself was the victim of an ISIS terrorist attack this week, perhaps with Saudi collusion.)

Complicating the situation is the fact that the US maintains its Fifth Fleet headquarters in Saudi-aligned Bahrain, while it has its largest Middle East base in Qatar, the Al Ubaid air field and the CENTCOM operations center – with 10,000 military personal in all. As the US continues its interventions in the Middle East – especially in Syria — it finds itself unable to maintain a coherent policy because of the conflicting interests of its various allies, many of whom support violent and anti-democratic religious extremists of one sort or another.