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What will Saudi Arabia lose after the Gulf earthquake calms down?

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud attends a football match in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on 18 May 2017 [Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout - Anadolu Agency]
Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz [Al Saud [Bandar Algaloud/Anadolu Agency]

Although it may be difficult to judge the repercussions of the Gulf crisis on the future of Qatar’s policies, media and role in the region, it is not as hard to judge the strategic losses Saudi Arabia will suffer after the crisis is over.

Doha’s losses or gains are dependent on the crisis’ upcoming trajectories as well as on the nature of the interaction between the contradicting American administration’s components under Trump, and the Turkish role in supporting Qatar. It is also dependent on the European position, and particularly that of Germany. This makes it difficult for any analyst to accurately predict the outcome of the crisis in terms of its impact on Qatar, but Saudi Arabia’s strategic losses from this earthquake are very clear and predictable, regardless of the crisis’ trajectories.

The end of the GCC

The most important loss that will be sustained by Saudi Arabia in the medium and long run is the end of the GCC. The council will no longer be as it had been after the major country in it resorted to besieging a small neighbouring that is a member of the body. The Gulf countries have never resorted to such violent measures in the history of their conflicts since the establishment of the GCC after the Iranian Islamic Revolution. The council maintained its unity even in the darkest of times and during the worst conflicts given their “brotherly” approach to resolving conflicts and the Bedouin tribal nature of the GCC countries’ people and states.

Read: Why the campaign against Qatar is doomed

The GCC had represented a rare example of effectiveness amid the failed and fragile regional councils in the Arab world. It was a model for unity and diplomacy, but this has become a thing of the past after the “siege on Qatar” as the “big sister” decided to escalate the situation and besiege and boycott its small neighbour. It did so without even presenting its demands to this neighbour and without calling a GCC meeting to discuss the conflict and how it can be resolved before making the decision to impose a siege. The GCC’s general secretariat remained silent while world and regional leaders discussed the crisis on a daily basis.

Regardless of the outcome of this earthquake, the GCC will never be the same and the “familial” approach to dealing with the Gulf crises will end. Each state will seek to achieve its own security and interests, far from the council, which seems to be a dead corpse in light of some counties’ siege on another member state.

But, what will the end of the GCC mean for Saudi Arabia? It basically means the end of its role as the “big sister” for the Gulf forever.

The loss of Kuwait and Oman

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) meets with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah (L) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 6 June 2017. [Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Royal Council]

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) meets with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah (L) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 6 June 2017. [Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Royal Council]

The Kuwaiti Emir tried to play a positive role in resolving the crisis and he shuffled between Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha to reach a settlement amongst the siblings, but he returned to Kuwait without making any statements or promises to end the crisis. This means that he has failed, so far, to achieve what he did during the crisis of the ambassador recall in 2014.

As for the Sultanate of Oman, it has remained completely silent and did not issue any statements, diplomatic actions, or position towards the crisis. This means that Saudi Arabia has failed to rally all the Gulf countries behind its escalatory measures.

Read more: Qatar backs Kuwait mediation in Gulf rift

More important than this failure is the strategic loss represented in Saudi Arabia’s transformation from a neighbouring country that differs or agrees with its neighbours to a country that wants to dominate its Gulf neighbours and impose its foreign polices on them. This will push Kuwait and Oman to look for strong cards and new alliances that are perhaps “unexpected” in order to protect themselves from their bigger neighbour that may decide one day to besiege them for reasons related to their foreign policies or their differences with Riyadh regarding one position or another.

The Gulf countries had believed they were protected given their alliance with the US and that they could rely on Washington to maintain the balance and stability in the Gulf, given it is a vital and important area for America’s national security. However, the crisis has shown that relying on America’s balance is not enough and that the arrival of an unbalanced president, such as Trump, into the White House may allow Saudi Arabia to change these balances and threaten the lives and stability of these countries and their people when it decides to do so.  This will drive these countries to search for other relationships and balances to guarantee their interests and security. This will not only threaten Saudi Arabia, but also the US’ interests in the area.

Read: Trump chooses multibillion-dollar Saudi deal over security cooperation with Qatar

The crisis erupted after the Qatar News Agency was hacked and an alleged statement by the Qatari Emir, which was denied by Doha, was published. The Saudi and Emirati discourse then began to focus on a number of elements of dispute with Doha, all revolving around Qatar’s foreign policy.

However, those following the Gulf policies will find that these accusations could be applied to any country given the presence of natural differences in foreign policies between the Gulf countries. There are even differences between the UAE and Saudi Arabia regarding vital issues. This would push decision-makers in these countries, especially in Oman and Kuwait, to ask: What will prevent Saudi Arabia from deciding to besiege any other country under the pretext of differences in foreign policy? This question is an inevitable result of the Gulf earthquake and it is a question that will undoubtedly prompt Kuwait and Oman to look for unconventional means of protection in order for them not to end up in the same awkward position Qatar finds itself in today.

A ‘new’ Qatar after the earthquake

US President Donald Trump (L) and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) attend the Arabic Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 21 May, 2017 [Bandar Algaloud/Anadolu Agency]

US President Donald Trump (L) and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) attend the Arabic Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 21 May, 2017 [Bandar Algaloud/Anadolu Agency]

Regardless of the outcome of the current crisis and regardless of the concessions that Doha will have to make to Saudi Arabia at the end of the crisis, either in days, weeks, or months, the Qatar before the crisis will be different than the one after.

Qatar has realised that its relations with Washington and the presence of many military bases on its territories did not give it immunity from its neighbour’s siege. This will push Qatar to take long-term measures after it catches its breath, even if after some time. These measures will cause Saudi Arabia to lose its “big sister” status and will make its borders with Qatar open to all possibilities.

Qatar will strengthen its military relations with Turkey and will certainly seek to increase the number of soldiers in the Turkish base in its territories after the crisis. It is also likely that Qatar will sign a defence agreement with Pakistan, as leaked by a Turkish newspaper close to the Justice and Development Party a few days ago. It will certainly reconsider the nature of its relations with Iran, at least regarding ending the conflict between them. This means that Saudi Arabia will find itself on the border of a country with defence agreements with foreign countries (Turkey and Pakistan) and it will discover that it pushed Doha to improve or at least normalise its relations with Tehran after their relations deteriorated due to the Syrian crisis and Qatar’s alliance with Riyadh in Yemen.

Read:  International Union of Muslim Scholars: Siege on Qatar is ‘haram’

In addition to the political and strategic losses, the Qatari economic model will inevitably change after the crisis in a manner that adversely affects the gains achieved by the Saudi trader from exporting to Qatar. This is because a country cannot continue to rely exclusively on two neighbouring countries after realising that they could besiege it at any time due to a political dispute. Doha will probably resort to establishing food factories in its territories, in cooperation with its Turkish ally, which will also benefit from the crisis economically.

‘Those who summon a demon must be able to dismiss it’

The Egyptian proverb says: “Those who summon a demon must be able to dismiss it.” In other words, if you are going to take a measure in a war against an opponent, you must take everything into consideration before taking the measure and make sure you are able to prevent yourself from being harmed in the process.

The twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, destroyed during 9/11 attacks [file photo]

The twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, destroyed during 9/11 attacks [file photo]

The ball of demands and accusations made by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the countries following them has started to roll in a confusing and accelerated rate, until it landed on the allegations of Qatar’s support for terrorism. These allegations are flawed by confusion regarding the identity of such terrorism, ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and other names and entities included on the list of terrorist figures and entities issued by Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama.

Saudi Arabia has summoned the terrorism “demon” to face Qatar with, but will Riyadh be able to dismiss this “demon” after the crisis is resolved? Isn’t Riyadh laying justifications to target it in the future with the same accusations by other regional and international countries, especially since it backs the Wahhabi doctrine, which has been accused by many of being responsible for the phenomenon of brutality and terrorism represented by organisations and groups claiming to be “Islamist, salafist, and jihadist”? How can the kingdom, which used this “demon”, confront the JASTA act, which seeks to punish Saudi Arabia in particular, and how will it defend itself after being more vulnerable to this accusation than Qatar or any other country in the region?

Riyadh has taken a chance on this “fleeting” moment and predicted that it would be able to achieve its goals and “break” Doha once and for all in light of the rule of a reckless American president. However, it seems that it did not take into considerate that the terrorism “demon” it summoned may backfire on its when Washington decides to do so in a not so fleeting moment that will undoubtedly come someday.

Translated from Arabi21, 11 June 2017

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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