In an interview with valdaiclub.com, Alastair Crooke, former British diplomat, founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, explained the reasons of the feud between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These include Qatar’s efforts to open up to Iran and its support of political Islam movements, which Riyadh considers a threat to its monarchical rule.
There are different reasons for the rupture of diplomatic relations between Qatar and a number of Arab states and it is important to disentangle them. First, this happened in the wake of President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Certainly, it was not the American government’s intention to split the Sunni block in the Gulf States, but maybe that is an unintended consequence of that visit, because he did use the language that was extremely colorful, at best, in describing Iran as the center of all the problems of the region. This did provide a peg for Saudi Arabia to do what it has done before and what other states have long wanted to do – to penalize Qatar for its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and to stop it. It is a very determined effort, because President Trump did mention the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
However, two other things lie behind this. One of them has been Omani, Qatari and, to certain extent, Kuwaiti determination to oppose the Saudi policy of weakening and attacking Iran. Qatar, along with Oman, have opened up their economy to Iran. This is one of the causes of the problem between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However, Oman, too, has been opening new trade routes – sea and overland – to Iran, which means more trade flowing directly to Iran.
The second thing, which is less obvious, is that the Qataris have also brought together the Sunni and the Shia parts of the important Tamim tribe. The tribe is widely dispersed and has branches in many countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Jordan. The father of Qatar’s ruler named his son Tamim and saw himself as part of the Tamim tribe. And this, particularly bringing the Shia elements of the tribe together with the Sunni at a time when Saudi Arabia is demonizing the Shia as the source of all the troubles of the Middle East has added to the tension, especially as parts of this tribe are in Saudi Arabia and can potentially give Qatar influence in the country.
The other aspect of this is the long feud between Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood, which really goes back to the period after Nasser, the Egyptian leader. Many in the Muslim Brotherhood took refuge in the Gulf States during the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt at that time. The Muslim Brotherhood’s intellectuals effectively transformed Wahhabism for the Saudis into something, which is more respectable. However, they also twisted it to a certain extent by saying that sovereignty over the Quraysh, the successors of the keepers of the two holy mosques, did not lie with the King per se, but rather it lay with the ummah. The ummah would create a shura and that will be the source of legitimate authority in the Salafist structure. Saudi Arabia finds this very threatening to its monarchical heritage. Therefore, there is a lot of bitterness towards Qatari support of the Muslim Brotherhood and HAMAS as a result of this experience.
As for the United States, President Trump is unlikely to take a side in this conflict. Of course, America has interest in Qatar: it has the main command center for the American armed forces near Doha. It may encourage Saudi Arabia to try to bring the Qatari back into the GCC. However, I do not think that they will expect that to be very successful.