Last Thursday, at an emergency meeting in Riyadh, Qatar’s foreign minister Khalid al-Attiya signed the Gulf Cooperation Council’s pact on non-interference in each others’ domestic affairs, writes Abdelbari Atwan.
In March, Qatar’s refusal to sign up to the pledge resulted in three states – Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain – withdrawing their ambassadors from Doha.
Qatar’s decision to sign the pact raises several important questions, not the least the extent of its actual commitment to it. Now we wait to see whether the three ambassadors will be sent back to Doha.
And finally, the most important question for this commentator is who are the victims of this pact and how will it affect the region’s political landscape?
The three countries imposed very difficult conditions on Qatar and it tried very hard to find a way out during the past month, but ultimately it was forced to abandon its intransigence for fear of reprisal or unsustainable developments, these conditions can be summarized in the following points:
* First: Qatar has to stop offering refuge and naturalization to Gulf Islamic opposition figures fleeing prosecution in their own countries for incitement.
* Second: Qatar has to stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood – which Saudi Arabia has now listed as a “terrorist” group – whether financially or by sympathetic media coverage; nor can it offer safe haven to its leaders or support charities which fund and help it.
* Third: it must rein in satellite channel Al Jazeera and its regional channels (Al Jazeera live Egypt, Island) and prevent them from airing criticism of, or incitement against, the military regime in Egypt.
* Fourth: it must close offices belonging to international research organizations including RAND and the Brookings Institute; KSA and other Gulf states believe these are a front for spying under the pretext of academic study and research.
If Qatar implements any or all of these conditions it will cause a seismic shift in the region’s power balance and change regional and international alliances woven carefully over the past 20 years.
If Qatar abandons its support for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), that will necessitate a rupture with Turkey whose Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is close to the MB. Qatar’s closeness to the MB also acted as a balance and safety net with regard to Wahhabism in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
Turkey is a Nato country and has been the primary supporter of the MB, particularly in its activities spearheading the Arab Spring uprisings. Qatar spent billions on media efforts to champion the MB.
Qatar’s Emir clearly feels he had little choice other than to sign the pact. He fears Saudi Arabia’s anger and has little room for manoeuvre.
There are already signs that Qatar has begun to implement the required changes: Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, head of the Muslim scholars Association, was prevented from speaking at the Omar Bin Khattab mosque last Friday.
Qatari media, including al-Jazeera, has virtually ceased covering Egyptian news. The focus has returned to the Syrian crisis just as it was before the ouster of elected President Mohammed Morsi as a result of the military coup led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
It seems that Doha may really be in the throes of abandoning the Muslim Brotherhood in order to toe the Saudi line.