Qatar cannot continue to face two ways

Sheikh Tamim’s comments point to a dangerous desire to be out of step with the GCC

Coptic Christians shout slogans during a funeral service for victims of a bus attack, at Abu Garnous Cathedral in Minya, Egypt. Amr Nabil / AP Photo
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The suggestion that comments of Sheikh Tamim, emir of Qatar, were the result of a cyberattack would carry more weight in the Gulf if Doha produced some proof and if his comments deviated wildly from his country’s stated policies and world view. No wonder the Gulf states are reluctant to believe Doha’s explanation. For too long, Qatar has tried to face two ways, one eye on the Arabian Peninsula, one eye on Iran.

That has to end. Comments such as these by the emir are profoundly dangerous. They destabilise relations within the GCC. They sow division between the GCC and our allies around the world. And of greatest concern, they give Iran the perception that it can divide the Gulf states.

Worst of all, they are simply wrong. Anyone who believes that Iran is a force for stability in the Middle East is living an unrealistic fantasy. Moreover, such comments are profound disrespectful to the memory of the soldiers of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries who gave their lives to stop Iranian meddling. Was Iran seeking stability when it sent arms to the Houthi rebels in Yemen or to Bahrain? Have the sectarian killings carried out by Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq contributed to stability? Has the world become more stable because Iran backed the Assad regime’s massacres in Syria? Wishful thinking does not make good policy.

There are some who will say that Sheikh Tamim is merely inexperienced. But inexperience will only go so far as an excuse, especially when there are older and more experienced leaders in the region who will happily provide advice. The truth is that the emir has steered Qatar into a political maelstrom, from which it will not be easy to retreat.

At this moment, the Gulf needs unity and clear leadership. The direction that has been set by Saudi Arabia and the UAE is clear and has been endorsed by the United States and other allies. It is working. The Middle East is at a moment of crisis and needs genuine leadership. If Qatar is unable to understand that, it should not interfere while wiser heads are going about their business.

Doha must come to a simple and clear understanding: the GCC is moving as one. If it does not wish to join this direction, it should not be surprised if it finds itself isolated – and if that isolation brings consequences. The GCC can survive without Qatar. The leadership in Doha may wish to consider if the opposite is also true.