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The bankrupt Saudi discourse

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia Adel al-Jubeir in Istanbul, Turkey on 18 May 2018 [Arif Hüdaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency]
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia Adel al-Jubeir in Istanbul, Turkey on 18 May 2018 [Arif Hüdaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency]

After the series of defeats suffered by Saudi diplomacy, some had hoped that Riyadh would seize the opportunity at the UN General Assembly to stand in favour of the Kingdom's genuine national interests and turn a new page with the rest of the Arabs in order to avoid further damage and minimise losses. Instead, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir chose to use the UN platform to attack Qatar again, accusing it of harbouring terrorists, an allegation no longer believed by the naïve, let alone the bright.

Unconsciously, Al-Jubeir echoed US President Donald Trump's statement that the Gulf States would not have survived without America's security support, instead of rejecting such a claim and expressing Saudi Arabia's character as one of the biggest and strongest Arab countries. The Saudi minister could have challenged Trump's statement, and those like it, but opted instead to express his anger at Qatar, claiming that the government in Doha would have fallen within a week if not for the presence of the US Al-Udeid Air Base. He omitted to explain how Qatar had actually survived for several decades before the base was established.

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When I worked at the US Institute of Peace in Washington DC as a senior researcher, I clashed with many American strategists on the issue of terrorism, and yet none of them ever mentioned anything about Qatar having a role in the funding and sponsoring of terrorists. Their criticism was always directed at Riyadh. It is worth noting that after 9/11, Saudi Arabia's image in the eyes of the US wasn't the same as it had been in the past. Despite Saudi Arabia's major efforts to improve its negative image — the presentation of the Arab Peace Initiative, based on Thomas L Friedman's advice, for example — and sponsoring the dialogue of civilisations, Riyadh remained accused of creating the conditions in which terrorism thrived. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act passed by the US Senate in 2016 highlights Saudi Arabia's failure to change its image; the support of 99 out of 100 senators for the law meant that there was a consensus to condemn the Kingdom.

Hence, nobody is surprised by Saudi Arabia's insistence that Qatar must be mentioned in the US as a "sponsor of terrorism", as if the Americans know nothing or have forgotten all about the unprecedented attacks in September 2001. Al-Jubeir obviously thinks that directing accusations against Qatar systematically will erase the collective US condemnation of Saudi Arabia's creation and nurturing of the conditions for extremism and terrorism.

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I am not seeking to defend Qatar as much as I hope that Riyadh will wake up from its delusion and begin to create common ground with neighbouring countries to mobilise the Arab states to confront all threats, regardless of the source. The perceived threat from Iran does not justify the alliance with Israel, which occupies Arab land and denies the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination in their homeland. We can understand the Saudi fear of Iranian influence, and even agree with Riyadh that there is a need to confront it, but the Kingdom cannot convince anyone of why it should stand up against Iran at a time when it is also besieging a fellow Gulf state that is not occupying any Arab territories and does not receive aid from any Arab or foreign country.

In short, the Saudi discourse is flawed by imbalance, and it is bankrupt because it divides rather than brings people together. Saudi Arabia's continued hostility towards Qatar is a cause for concern, as Riyadh should be courting the government in Doha, as the latter could help it to reduce its regional losses in the face of the Iranians. Just as Saudi Arabia is a crucial state — and we hope that it will recover and return to its senses before it is too late — the same can be said of Qatar, which has always stood within the Arab ranks to serve the Arab causes.

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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ArticleMiddle EastOpinionSaudi Arabia
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