Isolating Qatar was mainly a Saudi decision. The problems between the two countries have a long past and the Saudis were trying to persuade their allies in the region to do something about Qatar. It seems their efforts have finally paid off. One of the reasons for the conflict is the media outlets in Qatar, which have been criticizing the Saudi regime's foreign policy. The two countries have also been criticizing one another's governing styles.
In addition to cutting off diplomatic relations, there are also economic sanctions on Qatar for the purpose of suffocating the Gulf emirate. The conflict is of course not only between Qatar and the alliance led by Saudi Arabia, but includes many Arab countries such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and one of the governments in Libya. In fact, Qatar is only the chessboard of a wider conflict. In other words, Qatar has turned into the battlefield of divergent antagonist powers in the region.
The struggle is mostly about economic geopolitics, but there also exist deeper historical and religious conflicts behind it such as the Sunni-Shiite divide. However, these religious or strategic reasons are not enough to explain why now, at this precise moment, the Saudis and their allies have decided to act against Qatar. What was the reason that has encouraged Riyadh to act?
One reason is, of course, U.S. President Donald Trump's recent visit to the region, where he participated in a sword dance along the Saudi royalty. During his trip, Trump demonstrated that the U.S. has decided to reinforce its ties with its traditional allies in the region: Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. The weapons sales agreements have proven that he does not exclude dealing with the region's problems militarily. In fact, Saudi Arabia is one of the countries in the region that spends the most on its defense. The country has always been a good client for American weapons, even though during former President Barack Obama's time in office, some people opposed these sales, saying that Riyadh played a double game secretly financing al-Qaida, al-Nusra Front or Daesh.
As in everything, Trump is doing the exact opposite of what Obama was doing. As such, he declared the alliance with Saudi Arabia the pillar of U.S. policy in the region and he decided to put pressure on Iran. Saudi Arabia has thus become a "country that fights against terrorism."
That is why the official reason for the embargo imposed on Qatar was the country's alleged role in financing terrorism. Qatar's close relations with Iran have also been emphasized. Indeed, Qatar and Iran have good relations, but they are not that close. Qatar has very good relations with the U.K. as well, and most important of all, it is home to a U.S. air base.
The Saudis and their allies claim that Qatar supports organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood all around the region, and we know that for Trump, there is no difference whatsoever between this organization and Daesh. We do not know for how long this embargo will continue, but even if it goes on for a long time and even if Qatar ultimately collapses, does it mean Daesh will disappear with it? This embargo may also drive Qatar closer to Iran and Russia. Will that make the region a safer place?
It is not easy to believe that the U.S. administration has suddenly decided that suffocating Qatar will automatically destroy Daesh. Maybe they just had a comprehensive deal with the Saudis and in exchange, they have decided to give Riyadh what they had long been asking for – clipping Qatar's wings. The problem is that the pressure put on Qatar does not really punish Iran and it will only add the problem of Saudi expansionism to the regions' already numerous problems.
It is really not clear what Trump is trying to do in the Middle East. As long as this uncertainty continues, things will not be easy for him or the region. His actions, until now, have done nothing but reinforce the radicals in the region and Russian influence.
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