Analysis: Next phase in the Arab-Qatari crisis

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Wed, 06 Sep 2017 - 09:57 GMT

Caption Arab leaders and head of delegations pose for a group photograph during the 28th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan March 29, 2017- Reuters

Caption Arab leaders and head of delegations pose for a group photograph during the 28th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan March 29, 2017- Reuters

CAIRO - 6 September 2017: Since fuel was added to the flames of the Gulf crisis, observers and experts in the Middle East affairs have provided no affirmative solution. The mediation efforts exerted by the Emir of Kuwait, in addition to Russia, Turkey, the U.S. and France lately, do not reflect any concrete achievement.

On June 5, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have turned against Qatar with a complete air and trade boycott over allegations of its support and sponsorship of terrorism, which Doha denies

Following the Arab boycott of Doha, a list of 13-demands was handed over to Doha’s government by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain for reconciliation, which includes the closing of Al-Jazeera broadcasting and the suspension of its relationship with the extremist government of Iran.

Since then, Qatar has resisted conciliation attempts and has not shown any efforts of disassociating itself from the terrorist groups that the quartet claims are harbored and financially supported by Doha.

Observers believe the Gulf diplomatic crisis is likely to extend well into 2018, with a potential coup or foreign intervention plausible scenarios.


The isolation of Qatari leadership is likely to lead to negative economic, geopolitical and diplomatic consequences that may lead to regime change, following a decisive boycott from the four countries.


Doha keeps defying Arabs

Qatar may get closer to Iran unless a more moderate element of the Qatari elite can emerge to challenge the status quo and build bridges with the Arab quartet; first signs of the quartet have been identified in their 13-demand list.

On July 6, Iran made statements expressing its wish that Qatar's Emir 'remember the favor' granted by Tehran to Doha through opening its airspace following the June 2017 diplomatic crisis.



Possible scenarios

With the quartet implementing an increasing number of escalatory economic sanctions to inflict further economic pressure, the oil-rich state would witness domestic pressure from its people.


The boycott will likely lead to increasing civil discomfort and potentially unrest because of a precipitous shortage in food and commodity supplies, increasing the risk of internal violence, protest and increased suppression by the Qatari security forces. Internal pressure from discontented Qatari citizens is increasingly obvious on social media accounts and open source media reports.

Moderates within the Qatari elite are likely to be the most significant source of reconciliation between Qatar and the four countries. Most poignantly, there have been considerable steps taken by Sheikh Abdullah Ali bin Ali Al-Thani in August 2017 to reconcile the Qatari position in relation to Saudi Arabia.

Firstly, and most notably to facilitate the Hajj pilgrimage of Qatari citizens, following Sheikh Ali Bin Ali Al- Thani’s visit to Saudi Arabia where he met Mohamed Bin Salman Al-Saud on the 17 August.

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Additionally, visitors and cattle owners traveling across the shared land border will be processed through a special operations room staffed by Saudi personnel. A move denounced by the Qatari government, Sheikh Abdullah has nonetheless received widespread popular support with Qatar.

Heads of states in the region view him as the “voice of wisdom” a potential leader from within the Al Thani family that can replace the young Emir of Qatar who has failed his own citizens and threatened the stability of the region.


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As the Qatari government comes under increasing pressure from the quartet, the move by Qatari citizens towards figures within the Qatari elite capable of fulfilling their needs is likely to escalate the longer the crisis extends.

The likelihood of a coup from within the Al-Thani family is being discussed among diplomatic circles and has made headlines. Some believe that the presence of Turkish troops on Qatari soil and Turkey’s overt support for the incumbent Qatari government might mitigate the expected rebellion, while others are certain that Turkey will succumb to international pressure, and will be forced to withdraw its forces. The latter is more plausible according to experts.

In response to increasing sanctions and embargoes, Qatar could look to leverage its position as the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the world, shutting off the Dolphin LNG pipeline to Oman and the UAE.

The Dolphin pipeline supplies over 26 percent of the UAE’s natural gas demands and is critical to ensuring that the UAE can export its own LNG holdings, primarily to Japan, for which it is under contract to fulfill.


Qatar research

As the UAE seeks a new supply, Qatar could coordinate a flooding of the market with Iran alongside undercutting prices to reduce Russian, American, and Saudi influence and market share. Anticipating a prolonged embargo, Qatar has already made steps to bolster its energy income, including the Qatar Petroleum announcement that it was to increase production from its fields by 30% per year by doubling the size of its North Field projects.


A scenario involving foreign military intervention seeking regime change could stem from Qatar’s continued provocation through moves such as re-instating the Qatari ambassador to Iran, refusing to handover known terrorists living freely in Qatar, and failing to comply to the pressure of the international community, which has expressed dismay in the current regime, including President Trump who stated that Qatar has a history of supporting terrorism at a “very high level”. Violent suppression of protestors by the Qatari security forces would increase the possibility of potential foreign military intervention. Such a scenario is likely if the Emir of Qatar continues to ignore the 13-demands.

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If such an intervention was to take place, this would overwhelmingly favor regional actors at the expense of the Qatari military. While the balance of forces in the region is the principal factor within this assessment, the alignment of Qatari tribes supplying personnel to the Qatari military in the south of the country to Saudi tribes would also, likely generate a factional split within the small and vulnerable Qatari military.


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Regardless of the crisis outcome, each of the three possible scenarios pose significant risk to the current Qatari government.


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