Muhammad accomplished a plethora of objectives for the Arab during his time. Universally he is known for brining Islam, and continuation of the Abrahamic religion, to the Arab peninsula. However with that, he actually installed a new ethos in the Arabs; which caused comprehensive social change. He took a society which were deemed savages and barbarians by surrounding empires, and civilised them. There was no rule of law in Arabia, just a system that was based on honour and pride.
Such was their savagery that historian Gustave Grunebaum stated, “In the century before the rise of Islam the tribes dissipated all their energies in tribal guerrilla fighting, all against all.” The Sasanian Emperor once spoke about their barbarian neighbours, asserting there was no purpose in conquering the Arab philistines, because eventually they’d exterminate themselves.
1400 years later, that statement seems to warrant a mandate. With the blockade in Qatar, we are witnessing the Arab nations return to their roots. And with that their destruction, both philosophically and economically, may be eminent.
In this article we will try to understand the underlying tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and take introspective examination of why this blockade transpired. We will look at the clash of cultural philosophies between Qatar and Saudi, the vast economic improvements of Qatar and Qatar’s presence within the international arena. We will tie all of these aspects with the events that lead to the blockade.
First we will categorically list the recent events that transpired:
- Donald Trump visits Saudi Arabia; meets major leaders from Gulf States except from Qatar
- Qatar hunting party’s (involving Qatar royal family) gets kidnapped by Iranian militants); Qatar pay ransom of $1 billion to militant group which Saudi says sponsors terrorism
- Fake/hacked article stating that the Emir of Qatar made a speech supporting Hamas, criticising Donald Trump and condoning the actions of Iran
- Saudi and Gulf States implemented blockade; demand that Al Jazeera network shut down and Qatar cuts ties with Iran
Clash of the Cultures
To understand the clash between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, we have to understand Arab culture. In Arab culture there is a hierarchical system, both socially and politically.
Saudi Arabia is seen as the big brother within the Gulf States, and everyone follows their example. Jawad Muaathen, an expert in Arabic behavioural culture, states, “Saudi Arabia is the big brother, and the rest of states, especially Qatar, are younger brothers.” Qatar, within Arab culture, is subservient towards the dictations of Saudi. Muaathen goes on to assert, “The younger brother is thought to be the one that listens, and does as he is told, but expected to be there in times of need.”
Historically that has been the position of Qatar. They were the younger brother with no clout within the region. Unlike Saudi, Oman, Bahrain, UAE and Kuwait – Qatar never had reserves of oil in their land. They were the poor younger brother, and their policies were structured by the authoritarian older brother.
However in 1971, Shell Oil Company began drilling in Qatar in hopes of finding the elusive supply of oil. Instead they stumbled upon a gargantuan reserve of natural gas. Unfortunately at the time natural gas was not a valuable commodity in the market place. It was not until 1996, that this premise became obsolete.
In 1996 Qatar obtained the technology to liquefy natural gas. This meant they could export their natural gas to nation-states internationally. Qatar, now, were not limited to pipelines regionally to create income revenue; they had access to the international market. But what was even greater, was that natural gas had become the most imperative source of fuel.
In 1997 the environmental Kyoto Protocol was signed, and part of that treaty specified that natural gas would displace coal as the most efficient source of fuel. This was primarily implemented because of the Co2 emissions emitted by natural gas was less disastrous on the ozone layer.
Now not only did Qatar have the tools to export large quantities of natural gas internationally, but the value of natural gas had ascended to exorbitant altitudes.
The dynamic of the little brother/big brother relationship was shifting. Saudi Arabia, the persistently tyrannical force, was beginning to convulse.
Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems
Throughout the years since 1996, Qatar has diversified their investment within public and private sector. They have gained traction within the international sphere with high investment within 1st world countries. For instance Qatar backed multinationals corporation, Qatar Investment Authority, own around 28% of London’s infrastructure through their controlling interest in consortium Canary Wharf Investment Holdings.
They also have 6 of the top 10 liquefied natural gas companies in the world (capacity wise). QatarGas are one of the most profitable multinational corporations in the world. Recently they signed a new supply deal with Centrica in the excess of $4.4 billion dollars. The supply of liquefied natural gas would be the equivalent of 20% of the UK’s annual gas demand.
As a result of their diversified portfolio, Qatar has become the richest country, per capita, in the world. Saudi Arabia watched on as their little brother grew in wealth, and international prestige. Abdul-Rahman Siddiqi, a British citizen teaching in Qatar, states “Saudi Arabia has grown extremely jealous of Qatar. This blockade is nothing but tribal nonsense.”
Saudi has become increasingly more jealous of the success of Qatar, both regionally and internationally. The blockade was less about rule of law, or breaking of treaties and more revenge based. How dare Qatar act out of line towards us? How dare they not know their place? Saudi’s honour has been disrespected by the success of Qatar.
However the money and wealth was not the breaking point which led to the blockade. Saudi could tolerate the wealth; because wealth is something the other Gulf States had access too. Wealth is easily controlled. What infuriated Saudi was Qatar’s presence within the international community. As author Mohamed Zayani states, “Saudi’s government were jealous of the international veneration and esteem Qatar were amassing.” What Zayani is alluding to is two things: Qatar owning Al Jazeera network and their new position within the international community as diplomatic mediator between nation-states.
The Al Jazeera network was seen as a major effort, by Qatar, to garner international recognition as a sophisticated, modern state. As stated on a NPR Planet Money podcast, all the established states had their own news network. The UK has the BBC, Russia has RT and US has NBC, ABC and CBS. This approach was antithetical to Saudi Arabia’s position on the media. Saudi considers journalism, or any criticising of government, to be against Islamic values. This caused a great deal of belligerency which culminated in the fake news story regarding the Emir of Qatar. The blockade was decreed almost the next day.
Qatar’s mediation efforts have been unique given its size (2.2 million in the nation), and the historically elements attached to it. Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in that region, have traditionally led the in diplomatic intervention. As Qatari Political expert Mehran Kamrava testifies, “Qatar’s prolific efforts in mediation, especially between Hamas and Israel, caused immense hostility from the traditional states involved in that area – Saudi Arabia.” Saudi Arabia were concerned of the international clout gained by Qatar, they may be usurped as the dominate force in Arabia. This insulted Saudi honour and integrity, which is so vital to the Saudi Arabian ethos.
Pre-Islamic Arabia was lawless, without government. Disagreements were caused by jealously, envoy and pride. The ramifications of these indignations were normally death.
Today we have a blockade against an Arab country that was prospering without the intercession of Saudi Arabia. As a result Saudi Arabia committed a ridiculous act which has caused innocent people to lose their jobs and triggered fear, trepidation and anxiety over their future.
But with Saudi Arabia turning back to its Jahiliyyah (Arabic for time of ignorance) , we must remember that their destruction, and the whole of Arabia, will be eminent.
Soon the Gulf States will run out of the natural resource, which they trade as parlour tricks. And when their oil runs out they will become redundant towards the superpowers that protect them from human rights abuses, sponsored terrorism and fundamentalism in general. The lack of unity shown by the Gulf States is a regression to their tribalistic culture. They are without law. They are without hope. And as they spiral into decadence, clinging on to their envoy, jealously and pride, they will capitulate to the feeling of regret.
Qatar will survive without Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf States. But how long can Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, survive without Qatar?
Good night and good luck.
Special Thanks to: NPR Planet Money for contextual information