To: Shaikh Tammim Bin Hamad Al Thani
From: Joseph A. Kechichian
Qatar, the Al Thani ruling family, and you, face a serious crisis as several critical partners broke diplomatic relations with Doha and announced strict measures that will, inevitably, hurt your nation. This calamity is not temporary and will require sophisticated steps to resolve if you want to find a face-saving mechanism that will correct past errors. You are confronted with an unprecedented challenge, which your Arab neighbours are determined to see through because they insist that you “embrace[d] various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region”, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaida, Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and a myriad groups supported by Iran.
What are your partners complaining about and how can you defuse what is, undeniably, a major regional blow to peace and stability?
First, your fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies, along with Egypt, decry your post-2011 strategic decision to bet on the ascendancy of Islamist parties, including the violent Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It may be useful to remember that Doha acknowledged this threat when you approved the Brotherhood’s designation as a terrorist organisation along with all GCC member-states, though you apparently continued to provide financial assistance to some of its branches. You will also recall that Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar after differences came to a head in 2014, a crisis that ended once you entered into an agreement with the late King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia.
The second dilemma hovers around your pro-Iran policies, which are at odds with those of the overwhelming majority of Arabs. Justifiably, most fear a Persian onslaught within the realm, though reports that you objected to the recent United States-GCC Riyadh Summit declarations towards Iran, which you apparently consider to be “a great state that contributes to regional stability”, were interpreted as an open endorsement of Tehran. News that a senior Qatari representative met with Major General Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian commander of the Quds Force in the so-called “Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution”, bode ill. Soleimani, who is no friend of a single Arab, is partly responsible for the ongoing chaos and is helping Iran achieve one of its primary objectives — to drive a wedge among Arabs. Of course, Qatar and Iran share the offshore North Field from where the bulk of your wealth comes, but this does not mean that you ought to kowtow to Tehran. Moreover, and while Iran is a vital regional state, it is not a superpower. Qatar, as well as every Arab state, ought to maintain the best of neighbourly ties with it, though it is critical to repeat that such correct relations cannot be at any price.
Third are the statements where you praised Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood for being resistance movements rather than terrorist organisations, and your government formally denied that you uttered such statements. In the age of hacking and manipulation of websites, it is important for you to stay ahead in the ongoing cyberwar because silence will tarnish your noble name.
There may be other reasons that outsiders are unaware of but your primary task is to think how to resolve this crisis and, it seems evident, the key step is to contemplate about “the-day-after” that will end your isolation at the lowest possible cost.
Two specific points are worth reiterating at this stage.
One, the Al Thani and all Qataris are Arabs and your future is both with the Arab nation and the GCC alliance. Similarly, your economic welfare is tied to that of the Arab world, and though Qatar is the home of a major US military base at Al Udaid — which means that US-Qatari ties are vital — it is Saudi Arabia that provides you a strategic depth.
Second and finally, it is important to address a significant assertion made by several of your advisers who stated that your decisions are a matter of national sovereignty, and that Doha is free to choose as it deems best. GCC leaders are not your enemies and logic dictates that no one is trying to strip your liberty to do what you deem to be in the best interests of the Qatari nation. Rather, they are your allies, even if alliances have costs. The cardinal alliance rule is to prevent one party from adopting policies that will harm other members.
The GCC is moving towards a strong union under Saudi leadership, whether Iran likes it or not, and Qatar is part of that union because the promontory is attached to the Arabian Peninsula of which you cannot, and ought not, be separated. Under the circumstances, the way out of the disaster that befell you is to pledge loyalty to your Arab Gulf identity, to stand firm against extremists whose interests do not coincide with yours or with those of any Qatari, and to shun regional adventurers who assume no one will defy their arrogance. The Al Thanis are part of an honourable Arab Gulf nation and your duty is to proudly stand with those who value your congruence.
Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is the author of the just-published The Attempt to Uproot Sunni Arab Influence: A Geo-Strategic Analysis of the Western, Israeli and Iranian Quest for Domination (Sussex: 2017).