Qatar in Crisis – Part 1, The earthquake

“A small problem in the beginning can be a big one in the end,”  Thomas Aquinas.

There has been a number of conflicts between Persian Gulf countries, but this crisis has exploded like an earthquake with enormous ripple effects.

The claim of the other Persian Gulf countries, lead by Saudi Arabia is that Qatar supports terrorist organizations.  Qatar denies this, and claims just the opposite, that it actually is fighting the terrorism, in particular,  the Sunni based al-Qaeda and ISIL groups.   It is amazing how quickly Qatar’s friends are siding with the Saudis.  For example, Qatar  supported Libya’s effort to end the oppression by  their dictator, Gaddafi.  Now even Libya (eastern side gov’t)  has joined in the effort to isolate Qatar.  Some thanks!    This will be reviewed in later blog.

This  is not the front page story in the US- but the consequences are huge and may be long lasting.    Wikipedia calls this a diplomatic crisis.  They are keeping up to date with the countries severing ties with Qatar .  I particularly like the  Al Jazeera site, with it’s  timeline of all events.   Al Jazeera is now banned in all hotels in Saudi Arabia, yet it remains the best information source.  There’s been great  reporting in the New York Times, as usual.

The Persian Gulf region’s  political,  economic and military alliances  are, at this moment, in turmoil.  It is quickly getting worse by the hour  as other countries, including Turkey, Russia and the US are becoming involved.   The US can’t help from being involved as it has a major military base on Qatar.  Numerous universities, including Texas A+M have set up university programs in Qatar.    The liquid natural gas (LNG) facility in Qatar has US and French partners -Occidental Petroleum   and Total.  Huge gas reserves are located in the Persian Gulf (South Pars/ North Dome gas condensate field)  and production is shared by Iran and Qatar,  so these two countries are economically joined at the hip.   Qatar Petroleum began drilling additional wells in April 2017, after a 12 year lapse.

Another precious gem of Qatar is the Al-Jazeera news network, which Saudi Arabia and Egypt  hate,  but is a very reliable international news network, not a propaganda machine, as claimed.   Free speech and absolute monarchies, as in Saudi Arabia never really combine well.

The claim of supporting terrorism by the Saudis, seems to focus on support of the Muslim Brotherhood, more than any other organization.   Support of both Hamas and Hezbollah is also cited by Saudi Arabia and other countries.  I will explain in a future blog the recent ransom paid to an Iraqi shi’a group in return for members of the Qatari royal family upset Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

All efforts are being exerted by Saudi Arabia and their allies to control Qatar by isolating them.   There are no set of demands issued by the Saudi alliance.   Qatar is highly defiant right now.   Qatar is fiercely independent and extremely prosperous.    It will rely on Turkey for food and water supplies.   Saudi Arabia can’t isolate Qatar by land or sea,  but by denying airspace rights, this could be  a super big problem for Qatar Airlines. I believe the crisis is really about economic and political dominance of the area.  The fight to end funding of terrorism, is really the pretext.

There is nothing simple or easy to understand about this crisis.   It will not fit within one quick blog, so it is likely it will likely be broken up in parts.

Qatar by most measures is a small and wealthy country.  It’s GDP per capita is around $74,000, higher than the US, with $54,000 per capita.  Of course, the distribution of wealth is very different. It has 2.2 million inhabitants, and is about the size of Connecticut.  This is a country with only 330,000 Qatari citizens and all the others are expatriates.

There are a number of excellent summaries of Qatar on the internet.  The Lonely Planet travel guide used to say that the capital city, Doha, was one of the most boring places to visit.  They completely changed their tune and  now rave about the Doha, as a travel destination.  See Links at the bottom of this blog.

The crisis began when  Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut off relations with Qatar.    This is a major power play among the six  Gulf Cooperative  Council (GCC) countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.   The GCC was formed in 1981.  It provides cooperation among the countries in many areas, including trade, economic development and mutual military defense.   The GCC was active in providing air attacks against ISIL in Syria.  This cooperative effort against ISIL includes Qatar.

Some very critical background.  Of the Saudi Arabia’s Muslim  population, 90% belongs to  Sunni branch of Islam.   Just the opposite in Iran, as about 90% belong to the  Shi’a branch of Islam.   There are more  subgroups  within each of these branches and even the subgroups do not work well together.   No country is 100% Sunni or Shi’a.   In the Muslim world,  around 80% belong to the Sunni branch.

All countries, connected by land to Saudi Arabia have high Sunni populations:  Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, UAE and Oman.   Qatar is the exception  as it is about 60% Shi’a.

Now, the terrorist groups, ISIS and al-Qaeda beliefs stem from the most extreme subset of the Sunni Islam, although most Muslims would say they really represent  an extreme departure of the Muslim religion.  It would not make much sense to claim that Qatar is both supporting fighting against these terrorists groups in Syria through air strikes and simultaneously supporting these groups.  As a predominately Shi’s country, support of a Sunni based terrorist group makes no sense.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

Links:

Wikipedia: Muslim Brotherhood

Wikipedia: Qatar

Wikipedia:  Qatar in Crisis

Al Jazeera: Qatar Diplomatic Crisis: Latest Updates

 

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