by Mordechai Kedar
Read the article in the original עברית
Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)
The meaning of the root [q-t-r] in Arabic is to tow, and in Hebrew it is to create steam. Because of these two meanings Eliezer ben Yehuda named the apparatus that tows a train “Qatar” (steam engine), because it tows the train and creates steam, meaning hot air. The Qatar’s ability to tow the train depends on its own power and its connection to the train because without the power and without the connection to the train it cannot tow, it is just an ugly, noisy apparatus that creates hot air. The Emirate of Qatar, since the end of 1996, has been operating according to both of these meanings: using great strength it pulls the Arab world behind it and creates a lot of hot air.
In November of 1996 the Emirate of Qatar began operating the al-Jazeera channel with a very clear agenda: unrestrained propaganda against the Arab rulers, Israel, the United States and the West in general, and full support for the Muslim Brotherhood organizations, including Hamas. This agenda reflects the political and cultural approach of the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa ahl Thani. Al-Jazeera’s agenda grants it the highest rating in the world – since 70 million people watch on the dozens of different al-Jazeera channels for at least one hour per day. The majority of them watch the Arabic news channel, which has been shaking up the Arab world for more than seventeen years.
Thanks to al-Jazeera and its influence on the Arab masses from Morocco in the West to Oman in the East, from Syria in the North to Yemen in the South, the Emirate of Qatar has become the most influential country in the Middle East, whose power is much greater than its demographic weight (approximately two hundred thousand citizens), its geographical territory (similar to the area of the Negev in Israel) and its economic capability. In recent years, the Emir of Qatar has become the most important and influential person in the Arab world, and thus, also the most widely accepted mediator (meaning judge) of conflicts in the Arab world, and there are – touch wood - not a few of these.
The propaganda that the channel spreads against the Arab rulers was the chief cause for the outbreak of the great upheaval called the Arab Spring, which began in December, 2010 and to date has brought about far-reaching changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, with severe regional ramifications in Bahrain, Jordan and Iraq. The poor, ignorant, ill and oppressed Arab masses broke out into the streets to protest and demand their rights even at the price of their lives. Al-Jazeera spurred them on and filled them with the hope that their protests would succeed and they would have democracy overnight.
In addition to the propaganda, Qatar supported the rebels in Libya and Syria with money, weapons, ammunition, communications and training, and it stood, and is still openly and firmly standing behind the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, which lasted for one year, from July of 2012 until July of 2013. Today, the opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood see al-Jazeera as an enemy agent, if not even the enemy itself. After three miserable years of the “Spring” and the eruption of open battle between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the terrible situation of the Arab world is due – at least in part – to the Emirate of Qatar and the al-Jazeera channel.
However, lately the Emirate of Qatar has begun to show signs of support for Iran, Hizb’Allah and the Shi’ites. The new emir – Tamim, the son of the previous emir – visited Iran and announced there that Iran must participate in the solution to the problem in Syria. This raised the ire of its neighbors in the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, all of whom see Iran as the external enemy, Hizb’Allah as the regional enemy and the Shi’ite sect in every one of these countries as the internal enemy. Qatar’s active support of Shi’ite terror organizations crosses a bright, clear and very dangerous red line.
Saudi Arabia is convinced that there is intelligence cooperation between Qatar and Hizb’Allah, and that Qatar has delivered information on Sunni spying and sabotage networks to Hizb’Allah, which enables Hizb’Allah to eliminate these networks. On February 20th, a shooting attack was carried out in Eastern Saudi Arabia, in the Shi’ite region of al-Qatif, in which two Saudi Arabian security people and two Shi’ite suspects were killed. Saudi Arabia attributes this attack to Hizb’Allah, and accuses its neighbor, Qatar, of supporting it. Two weeks ago an attack occurred in Bahrain in which a Sunni officer from the United Emirates by the name of Tariq Mohammed Al Shehi was killed, along with two members of his entourage, and this attack was attributed to the Shi’ite organization as well. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back and the countries of the Arabian Peninsula – except for Yemen, Oman and Kuwait – decided to recall their ambassadors from Qatar.
This step is considered to be harsh because it is against the international convention, which is that the first phase is to “invite the ambassador for consultation” and only in the second phase recall him altogether. The countries went to the second, harsher phase, to express the severity with which they see Qatar’s acts and its policies. Because of this coordinated act, the issue of how to relate to Qatar has been put on the agenda in each country, in each place and in anyone’s heart who is interested in the Arab nation’s condition and the miserable situation in which it is enveloped at this time. It is natural to search for the party who is responsible for the situation, and Qatar is exactly in the spot where it is extremely easy to find the guilty party because of its obvious presence in Arab public life and because of its great involvement in events in many Arab arenas.
In this context it is important to note that Qatar’s ambassador in Cairo had been sent home in August of 2013 with the claim that Qatar is financing Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, terror in Sinai and the “Free Egyptian Army”. After the removal of Mursi, Egypt claimed that al-Jazeera has been spreading false propaganda about Egypt using a special channel for Egypt, “Al-Jazeera Mubasher” (straight from the centers of the Muslim Brotherhood’s demonstrations). Egypt also claims that Qatar provides shelter for the Muslim Brotherhood operatives who flee there from Egypt and that Qatar refuses to extradite them to stand trial. Egypt recalled its ambassador from Qatar in February of this year for these reasons.
The Muslim Brotherhood Issue
One of the ideological cornerstones motivating the Muslim Brotherhood organizations is that in Islam, tribal or ethnic affiliation should have no meaning for the Muslim individual, because he is measured only by his faithfulness to Allah, to Muhammad, to Islam, to Sharia and to the Islamic nation. Tribal and ethnic allegiances must be abrogated because they split the Islamic nation into rival groups, cause conflicts and preferred status on the basis of competition in Islam, thereby interfering with religion being the common denominator for all Muslims.
Such an ideology can be attractive only in an individualistic society such as that in Egypt and Tunisia, where most of the population lives in cities and is not organized as families or clans, but as individuals or nuclear families consisting of a father, mother and children. On the other hand, in a tribal society, where allegiance to the tribe and its traditions takes precedence over everything, the Muslim Brotherhood doctrine is perceived as undermining the social order and its principles, as well as the class hierarchy and the elite group that leads the tribe responsibly and faithfully.
The society in the Gulf countries is a tribal society, and the social structure is a source of the stability – and therefore the wealth as well – of the citizens, because each one of the Emirates is based on one single tribe: the Sabah clan in Kuwait, the Thani clan in Qatar, the Nahyan clan in Abu Dhabi and so forth. For years the Gulf countries, except for Qatar, have been making a great security effort to locate, arrest and expel anyone who tries to spread the Muslim Brotherhood doctrine, and if it is one of the members of the tribe who “fell victim to their ruinous propaganda” then he will find himself in an “educational institution” that has iron doors and bars and dungeons where people are treated with great toughness and little sensitivity.
And here is the Emirate of Qatar, who not only invites Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi from Egypt, the most prominent ideological spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood today, to be the mufti of the country and spiritual mentor to the emir and his family, it also gives him an entire hour every week during prime viewing time to spread his Brotherhood propaganda without limits or monitoring of the ideas and without any hindrance on his lush verbiage on the al-Jazeera channel. As long as he curses Israel and the United States and incites the Arab masses against them the Gulf countries can tolerate what he says, but when he condemns the United Emirates for the way it relates to the Muslim Brotherhood it becomes too much to bear. Dhahi Khalfan, police chief of Dubai, announced last year that the Muslim Brotherhood – meaning Qaradawi and whoever provides a stage for him – are more dangerous to the Arab nation than Iran. The Emir of Qatar either did not hear, or did not want to hear, the warning that is inherent in Khalfan’s words.
Hot Heads and Cold Shoulders
The joint decision made by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Emirates to recall their ambassadors from Qatar released the most dangerous jinn of the Arab world from the bottle into the public discourse: the relationship between the dictators and those who rebel against them, the issue of tribalism, Wahhabism and the Saudi royal house, the terror that affects everyone, the Syrian tragedy, the hatred between the Persians and the Arabs, the fear of Iran and the collaboration with it, the blood feud between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, the behavior of the Muslim Brotherhood and the struggle against them, the role of the media, and the relationship to Israel and the West. All of these issues are interrelated, and the discussion touches on fairly difficult areas.
Many in the Emirates who write in social networks, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so forth, call for boycotting all of the Qatari media, especially al-Jazeera, not to listen to them and not to write in them. There are those who call for removing the soccer championship games of 2022 from Qatar, and there are those who call for forgo flying with the Qatari airline and inviting Qatari representatives to professional conferences and cultural events.
Even Israel is not missing from this story: there are those who claim that it is a holy obligation to excommunicate Qatar totally because it is an agent of Israel and al-Jazeera and is actually managed from the basement of the Mosad. Their proof is simple: Israel is the greatest benefactor of the shake-up in the Arab world, because during the past three years all of the threats to Israel have been erased - from the Syrian army, which is not capable by itself to stand against the waves of jihadists that Qatar has sent to Syria, and from Hizb’Allah, which, with its tens of thousands of missiles threatening Israel, is sinking into the quagmire of blood, tears and fire that are destroying Syria, and every night it buries the heroes that Israel could not subdue in the war of 2006.
On the other hand, there are those who accuse Saudi Arabia of deteriorating the situation in the Arab world by encouraging the United States to eliminate Saddam Hussein in 2003, because his elimination made it possible for Iran to take over Iraq and turn it into a center of Shi’ite activities and a land bridge to Syria and Hizb’Allah and to establish a Shi’ite empire from Iran via Iraq and Syria to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Lebanon. Moreover, Saudi Arabia was the country that established al-Qaeda, and therefore Saudi Arabia must direct the claims of harming the security of the Arab nation to itself, not to Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to defend itself from the accusations of undermining the security situation is promoting an initiative against terror these days, and calls for defining any armed organization that operates in the Arab world today – Shi’ite and Sunni alike– as a forbidden terror organization. On this list are organizations such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb’Allah, the Houthis (Shi’ites in Yemen), and al-Qaeda in its various branches. The fact that some of these organizations were founded by Saudi Arabia and are funded today with Saudi money is not mentioned.
This is not the first time that Saudi Arabia has announced an initiative to clear itself from guilt: the Arab Peace Initiative with Israel began as a Saudi peace initiative in March of 2002, to clear the Saudis of guilt of responsibility for the attacks of September 2001 in the United States.
After the recall of the ambassador, three countries published a joint announcement that clarifies the reasons for the step that they have taken. In the announcement they placed the responsibility on Qatar because it did not act according to decisions of the Gulf Cooperation Council (a body that includes most of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula and whose main purpose is to synchronize their security operations) that were taken in Riyadh on the 23rd of November 2013, and determined that the member countries must “act according to the principles that assure the country’s non-involvement in internal matters of another country, either directly or indirectly, and refrain from practical, political or media support of any person or organization that threatens the security and stability of member countries.”
The accusations directed toward Qatar are not new. The disagreement between it and Saudi Arabia and its support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the battle against the regime of Defense Minister Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi has become public, with Saudi Arabia expressing support of Sisi since July 2013, while Qatar enthusiastically supporting – even to this day – Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Also the role that the al-Jazeera channel fills in general and Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in particular has been drawing severe criticism from Saudi Arabia for a long time. The Qataris claim that al-Jazeera is free to choose it’s the direction of its media, but the Saudis know that the channel expresses both the prior and the present emir of Qatar’s political and cultural agenda.
The decision to recall the ambassadors from Qatar was not taken easily; it was preceded by many hours of discussions and three chances were given to Qatar to change its policy, which endangers the peace and stability of the Gulf countries. The announcement read: “since more than three months have passed after the agreement was signed without Qatar taking the necessary steps to implement it, on the basis of full disclosure and transparency with which the leaders of the three countries relate to the problems of supreme national interests of their countries, and in light of the great challenges and fateful transformations that threaten the security and stability of the Gulf countries, the responsibility placed on their shoulders obligates them to instruct their foreign ministers to clarify the matter to the state of Qatar and the importance of a unified position against anything whose objective is to undermine the stability and harm the security of their countries. The meeting took place in Kuwait on the 17th of February, 2014, in the presence of Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabar al-Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh bin Hamad bin Khalifa ahl Thani, the emir of Qatar, and the foreign minister of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In the meeting it was agreed that the foreign ministers of the countries of the Council would determine a mechanism for oversight on carrying out the agreement of Riyadh. Following this the foreign ministers of the countries of the Council met in Riyadh on March 4th, 2014 and decided to invest great efforts in order to convince Qatar of the importance of carrying out the agreement of Riyadh and its agreeing to the mechanism of oversight on implementation, but unfortunately all of these efforts did not result in Qatar’s agreement to accept these steps upon itself.”
In other words: the Gulf countries have announced that Qatar is a rogue country that does not accept the collective’s norms of behavior and according to the rules of tribal behavior it has become “Tashmis” – publicly removed from the group in order to shame it. In an indirect way the decision says: “We hoped that the new emir of Qatar, 33-year old Tamim, would change the policy of his father who resigned in June of 2013, but we were severely disappointed. We gave him a 150 day grace period to learn what we expect from him but he continues to walk in his father’s deviant path. We have additional means to pressure him such as a total break in relations, closing the land border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and denying Qatar to fly over our countries. These steps would choke Qatar and it would not be able to function.”
For the time being Qatar is not upset about its ambassadors being recalled, although it has expressed sorrow over this step. If the crisis with the neighbors deepens, we may see the previous emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad, return to take part in managing the matters of state, as a sort of responsible adult. This would happen behind the scenes so as not to embarrass his son.
The important question is what will happen to Qatar’s relations with the Arab countries. It seems to me that they will not cut off relations with it entirely in order to prevent it from throwing itself on the Iranians’ bosom and become an Iranian Trojan horse within the Arabian Peninsula. Also, a split within the “Arab Family” weakens it. Another important thing is that the largest American Air Force base in the Gulf is located in Qatar, so a full break in relations between Qatar and the Arab states would make it difficult for the Americans to maneuver their policy in the Gulf toward Iran, and the Gulf states are still hopeful that the United States will save them from the long arm of Iran.
It seems to me that some time in the near future the two sides will come to a consensus or even an agreement, and in this framework Qatar will have to curtail its involvement in the Arab states and its connections with Hizb’Allah, and its Arab “sisters” will maintain a reasonable level of communication with the rogue emirate. A complete break in relations would not serve either side.
Dr. Kedar is available for lectures
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.
Additional articles by Dr. Kedar
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.