Qatar’s Actions Destabilize Bahrain and Gulf Region

Grievances between Qatar and much of the rest of Middle East go back decades and help explain the schism that burst into the open recently and led to the widespread boycott of Qatar.

Take the case of bad blood between Bahrain and Qatar. Bahrain is still angered over Qatar’s attempts to use its vast funds to undermine Bahrain during its internal crisis in 2011. Qatar made that situation worse by encouraging Al Jazeera’s relentlessly negative coverage of unrest in the country. The government of Qatar owns al Jazeera.

Qatar’s media behemoth promoted an unsavory image of Bahrain and became a mouthpiece for opposition groups. Misleading documentaries produced by the network were even aired on Qatar Airways flights.

At other times, political dissidents were regularly hosted in Doha, Qatar’s capital, and given a platform to speak out against the Bahraini government. Many of these conferences involved talks surrounding democracy promotion in fellow Gulf states, but notably never in Qatar. Not a single Qatari dissident voice could be heard at these events.

Far more sinister in the eyes of the Bahrainis are the recent leaked recordings of a conversation between an adviser to the former Qatari Emir and Hassan Sultan, one of the leaders of the Bahraini opposition. Sultan had his nationality revoked in 2015 and is currently living in Lebanon under the protection of the outlaw terrorist group Hezbollah. In the recording, the adviser makes clear that his sympathies are squarely with the Bahraini opposition.

The Qatari government has denied trying to undermine the security and stability of Bahrain. But the leaks can be seen as evidence that the network is a foreign policy tool of the Qatari regime.

It is hard to overstate the role Qatar played in undermining the Kingdom of Bahrain during its period of uncertainty six years ago. Link this to the recordings of Qatari leaders and former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi discussing how to create instability in Saudi Arabia and a worrisome pattern emerges clearly. Bahrainis view Saudi Arabia’s stability and security as integral to their own. Saudi Arabia is Bahrain’s primary ally and its most important trading partner. It is natural for the Bahraini leadership to view threats to Saudi Arabia’s stability as threats to its own.

Qatar has condemned the boycott imposed on it by Bahrain and other members of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC). The GCC States have responded that Qatar must change its behavior and become a law-abiding nation before it can call itself an ally.

Some critics of the boycott have asserted that a protracted dispute between Qatar and the GCC will push Qatar into the arms of Iran, but at the end of the day, the tribal and human bonds between Qatar and its fellow GCC members are stronger than anything Iran can offer. An alliance between Qatar and Iran is unsustainable for either party in the long term. Despite their many differences in recent years, Qatar and the GCC states have much more in common with each other socially, economically and politically than they do with Iran. It is in Qatar’s interest to realize this sooner rather than later.

Image courtesy of Bahrain in pictures

Omar Mohamed is a research analyst focused on security, GCC foreign policy and Gulf military balance at the Bahrain Centre for Strategic, International and Energy Studies

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About Omar Mohamed

Omar Mohamed is a research analyst focused on security, GCC foreign policy and Gulf military balance at the Bahrain Centre for Strategic, International and Energy Studies

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