Qatar crisis: Everyone’s a ‘bad guy’

the Nation

(ANN/the Nation)

World watches apprehensively as sultanate unwisely accused of sponsoring terrorism

The diplomatic rivalry between Qatar and a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Middle Eastern countries has certainly shaken up Muslims around the Persian Gulf, and the impact is felt far beyond when it comes to distinguishing between “good guys” and “bad guys” in the global war on terrorism. Like so much else, it seems, the devil is in the details.

It was once the straightforward, generally accepted reasoning among Muslims that the West, and the United States in particular, were the Big Bad Wolves intent on destroying Islam. The notion lost much of its appeal once it became clear that the vast majority of victims of Islamic terrorist attacks are Muslims, not Westerners. The Islamic State and its ilk have no qualms about killing anyone disagreeing with them.

Unfortunately, the overuse of the term “terrorist” for political purposes undermines its significance. Saudi Arabia and its allies, including Egypt and United Arab Emirates, are demanding that Qatar stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt and its offshoot in Palestine, Hamas. They are being unfair and unwise in characterising all Islamists as terrorists. The Malaysian opposition Parti Islam se-Malaysia is Islamist with strong support among non-Muslims. Hamas itself enjoys considerable support among Palestinian Christians. The Muslim Brotherhood was voted to power in Egypt in June 2012, only to be ousted in a military coup less than a year later. The ensuing street protests were crushed, leaving nearly 1,000 dead in a single day.

And it would be a gross mistake to lump these Islamist movements in with fanatics such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which reject democratic governance outright. But, in the eyes of many in the Middle East, especially those on the Gulf, these non-state Islamist movements are all terrorists, not least because they question the legitimacy of their host nations.

Among the oil-rich Gulf nations, Qatar stands out as the one sultanate supporting Islamist groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Predominantly Shiite, it has been able to mediate between the Afghani government and the Taleban, but its amicable relations with Iran infuriate Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. This is why it’s been accused of sponsoring terrorist groups. The accusation has gained little traction in the West, however, because Qatar hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East, from which American attacks on al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are launched.

It should be obvious to all that there are no “good guys” in the region. Every player has blood on his hands as vast amounts of money are channelled into genuine terrorist hands. All that’s left to debate is precisely how involved in terrorism each government is.

While the battle against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda provides motivation for all Arab countries to act in unity, the dispute in the region is really about which country gets to be the “alpha male” in the pack. Saudi Arabia has its own reasons for believing it should be dictating the region’s future. Qatar is being isolated because it has other plans and other friends in mind.

Qatar is also home to al-Jazeera, the award-winning television news network whose no-nonsense reporting has long irked Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, among others. And last week, those countries along with Bahrain and Yemen abrupt cut all diplomatic ties with Qatar and shut down al-Jazeera’s foreign bureaux. How this matter unfolds from here remains to be seen.