The diplomatic impasse that pits Qatar against most of its GCC allies indicates the emergence, possibly temporary, of a new regional order. Doha seems to have aligned itself with Turkey in one, small bloc that sides with the Muslim Brotherhood, while the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt form a second bloc, which is aligned with Jordan. Iran, Iraq and Syria make up a third.
Doha’s position seems to be among the least sustainable of those three blocs. Turkey’s economic woes and the fallout from corruption allegations against prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, make it a somewhat unreliable partner, but Qatar’s insistence on supporting the Muslim Brotherhood – in essence, its solidarity with the failed Egyptian government of the now-jailed Mohammed Morsi, which was toppled last year – defies logic, history and the realities on the ground.
The current Egyptian caretaker government and likely presidential candidate Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El Sisi have moved to accept the hand of friendship and solidarity extended by the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Field Marshal El Sisi, who is the defence minister, has been in Abu Dhabi this week to attend joint military exercises. In a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, he stressed the importance of bilateral ties between the nations.
Qatar’s outlier status raises several concerns. All the GCC countries, including Qatar, along with Egypt and other Arab nations, have reason to be worried about the growing nexus between Iran and Iraq. While Iran has made concerted efforts to appease concerns about its nuclear ambitions, it has not wavered in its support for the bloody regime of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad and the destabilising activities of Hizbollah. The strength of the Iran-led bloc requires a united Gulf to act as a counterbalance.
Qatar’s recalcitrance on the issue of the Brotherhood also brings into question joint defence and intelligence initiatives in the Gulf, including plans for a defensive missile system. Nobody wants escalated tensions between the GCC nations and there is every hope for a resolution. Doha asserts its rights to set its own foreign policy and choose its allies. However, both the history books and the current geopolitical realities should be telling the leadership in Doha that their real friends are their neighbours nearest.