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Adnan Qaiser |

In my paper in spring 2017: Radical Islamism: Understanding Extremist Narrative and Mindset,’ I had postulated that all Middle East’s ills lie in its oppressive monarchies and autocratic regimes. The malice and lust for regional dominance of these uncommitted rulers with their populace remain a scourge for the Muslim world. While the recent Saudi-Qatar spat is all about Qatar’s insubordination (for maintaining links with Iran) and challenging Saudi hegemony; the targeting of a Shiite Iran through a Saudi-led 41-nation (Sunni) military alliance essentially ‘sanctions’ Muslim bloodshed by fellow believers.

Read more: The Gulf crisis: Small states battle it out

In his talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in January 2016, US Senator Chris Murphy shared some “uncomfortable truths,” blaming Saudi Arabia for having “funneled over $100 billion into funding schools and mosques all over the world with the mission of spreading puritanical Wahhabism … the only sect of Islam that can be perverted into violence.”

Being the custodian of holy sites of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia has always imposed its supremacy over the Islamic world. However, its propagation of hardline Wahhabi-sect doctrine has not only distorted the faith, but also created Salafist terror-groups like al-Qaeda, its several offshoots, and Daesh. In his talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in January 2016, US Senator Chris Murphy shared some “uncomfortable truths,” blaming Saudi Arabia for having “funneled over $100 billion into funding schools and mosques all over the world with the mission of spreading puritanical Wahhabism … the only sect of Islam that can be perverted into violence.”

Read more: The Gulf crisis: A battle of megalomaniacs

Saudi Jumpiness

Besides (half-heartedly) supporting the Arab Spring (to bring democracy in the region) and its preoccupation with a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration also remained worried about Saudi support to Syrian rebels going awry; it was the same time-period (2013-14) when Jabhat al-Nusra and Daesh took deeper roots. Secondly, the release of 28 classified pages of 9/11 commission report certifying official Saudi links with the incident further unnerved the House of Saud (one wonders if the mysterious deaths of three Saudi princes in just one week in July 2002 had also some connection to 9/11).

Saudi Arabia remains jittery about its regional dominance – as well as its preeminence in the Muslim world – which comes from several factors. First, having found legitimacy as a sole leader of Muslim Ummah (community) through US support in the past, the Saudis saw their clout diminishing after President Obama took a step-back in their relations. Besides (half-heartedly) supporting the Arab Spring (to bring democracy in the region) and its preoccupation with a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration also remained worried about Saudi support to Syrian rebels going awry; it was the same time-period (2013-14) when Jabhat al-Nusra and Daesh took deeper roots. Secondly, the release of 28 classified pages of 9/11 commission report certifying official Saudi links with the incident further unnerved the House of Saud (one wonders if the mysterious deaths of three Saudi princes in just one week in July 2002 had also some connection to 9/11). Third, Saudi Arabia remains edgy due to a ‘Shiite crescent,’ comprising of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, and Shiite-communities in Iraq, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, and Yemen, encircling it from the East. Finally, the botched war in Yemen against Shiite Houthis, ongoing since 2015, keeps adding to Saudi anxieties.

Read more: Doha turns to Islamabad as the Gulf crisis festers.

Saudi-Qatar Spat

A greater Qatari offense was the prediction by former Qatari prime minister, Hamad-bin-Jassim, that Saudi Arabia would be wiped-out from the map of the world (in a leaked 2003 recording that came to light in 2014 leading to some ten-month long diplomatic standoff).

Being devout adherents – and proponents – of Wahhabism, both Saudis and Qataris dispute on their forefathers too; claimed by both, Saudi Arabia continues to protest against naming Doha’s state-mosque on Muhammad ibn-Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92). Furthermore, a greater Qatari offense was the prediction by former Qatari prime minister, Hamad-bin-Jassim, that Saudi Arabia would be wiped-out from the map of the world (in a leaked 2003 recording that came to light in 2014 leading to some ten-month long diplomatic standoff).

A further source of friction is Qatar’s support for Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood. However, by denouncing both these organizations, Saudi monarchy has demonstrated its apathy towards the Palestinian solution and Sunni Islam. This is unhelpful for the region as notwithstanding its strategy, Hamas still represents genuine aspirations of the Palestinian people and the Muslim Brotherhood has generally stood for political Islam and not militancy (leaving-aside odd runaways like al-Qaeda’s Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri).

The current accusations leveled by Saudi Arabia and its cohorts against Qatar are no less than preposterous. Instead of coming out with some tangible charges, terror-sanctioning 12 organizations and 59 other people; making 13 demands, left Qatar with no choice but to reject them. The real problem for Saudi Arabia is Qatar’s close ties with Iran. A further source of friction is Qatar’s support for Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood. However, by denouncing both these organizations, Saudi monarchy has demonstrated its apathy towards the Palestinian solution and Sunni Islam. This is unhelpful for the region as notwithstanding its strategy, Hamas still represents genuine aspirations of the Palestinian people and the Muslim Brotherhood has generally stood for political Islam and not militancy (leaving-aside odd runaways like al-Qaeda’s Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri).

Read more: The Gulf crisis: Fake news shines spotlight on psychological warfare

While Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, Morocco, and Tunisia have wisely stayed out of the affray, Egypt, Bahrain, and United Arab Emirates toe the Saudi line, first, to suppress the remnants of Arab Spring and second, to counter the growing Shiite and Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in their countries. Libya, Maldives, and Mauritania, siding with Saudi Arabia, add numbers but carry no significance in reality.

Qatar also eyes towards hosting the FIFA-2022. It was negotiations in Doha which had facilitated a UN brokered a ceasefire in Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006, followed by a 2008 “Doha agreement” that ended an 18-month long political crisis in Lebanon.

Here one must acknowledge Qatar’s positive role in the region too. Besides housing US CENTCOM, a forward-looking – and moderate – Qatar also eyes towards hosting the FIFA-2022. It was negotiations in Doha which had facilitated a UN brokered a ceasefire in Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006, followed by a 2008 “Doha agreement” that ended an 18-month long political crisis in Lebanon. Finally, Qatar has been facilitating Afghan talks by opening Taliban’s office in Doha since 2013.

Read more: Gulf crisis: Wests keen eye on strategic and economic benefits

Meet the “al-Walad” – The new Crown Prince

It is ironic that despite his failures and butchery in Yemen, the Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammad-bin-Salman – popularly known as MbS – has been elevated in the House of Saud succession. Reporting 1,310 deaths due to the cholera epidemic, UN has already warned of a famine in Yemen in 2017.

Saudi condemnation of moderate media channels like Al-Jazeera, Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby, Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye comes from its fears of fanning the Arab Spring sentiments; to Saudi chagrin, these channels (objectively) present Saudi military action in Yemen as a bungled undertaking. It is ironic that despite his failures and butchery in Yemen, the Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammad-bin-Salman – popularly known as MbS – has been elevated in the House of Saud succession. Reporting 1,310 deaths due to the cholera epidemic, UN has already warned of a famine in Yemen in 2017.

The abrupt change in the succession order doesn’t come without invoking the peril of internal resentments and palace intrigues. Prince Nayef, who has since been (unceremoniously) relieved of his duties, was respected worldwide and had deservedly won international acclaim for his successful counterterrorism operations, eliminating al-Qaeda from the country. It must be remembered that King Faisal was assassinated by none other but his own nephew in 1975.

While the “Vision 2030” (reducing dependence on oil) of this 31-year-old prince looks fanciful, it is MbS’s arrogance towards Iran, which is worrisome. His belligerent threat of taking the battle to Iran has already been rebuked by Iran’s defense minister, General Hossein Dehghan: counseling against carrying-out “such a stupidity” because in that case, nothing would be “left in Saudi Arabia except Makkah and Madina,” the two holy cities. Little wonder, other Saudi princes taunt MbS as al-Walad (immature boy). Furthermore, the abrupt change in the succession order doesn’t come without invoking the peril of internal resentments and palace intrigues. Prince Nayef, who has since been (unceremoniously) relieved of his duties, was respected worldwide and had deservedly won international acclaim for his successful counterterrorism operations, eliminating al-Qaeda from the country. It must be remembered that King Faisal was assassinated by none other but his own nephew in 1975.

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Islamic Military Alliance – Sanctioning Sectarianism

A former army chief of a nuclear-armed Pakistan commanding the IMAAT further complicates the matters; Pakistan remains a sectarian battleground with no less than 148 Shia-Sunni outfits. Meanwhile, the anti-Shia Daesh, Jundullah, Lashkar-e-Jhangavi-al-Almi, and Jaish-ul-Adal have also expanded their tentacles into Afghanistan and Iran, as witnessed through latest terrorist attacks in Kabul and Tehran.

President Trump’s approval of Islamic Military Alliance against Terrorism (IMAAT) has further propelled the Saudis into recklessness. IMAAT’s sectarian undertone – wrongfully stigmatizing a Shiite Iran as the sole source of terror in the region – is fraught with danger. Although without any substantive contribution of troops by participating countries, IMAAT remains a ‘ghost force’ so far. However, a former army chief of a nuclear-armed Pakistan commanding the IMAAT further complicates the matters; Pakistan remains a sectarian battleground with no less than 148 Shia-Sunni outfits. Meanwhile, the anti-Shia Daesh, Jundullah, Lashkar-e-Jhangavi-al-Almi, and Jaish-ul-Adal have also expanded their tentacles into Afghanistan and Iran, as witnessed through latest terrorist attacks in Kabul and Tehran.

Even with having a Sunni IMAAT at its disposal, Saudi Arabia must realize it has little military capacity to challenge the Iranian might; despite boasting, Saudis never had the audacity to send their ground forces into Syria or Yemen. Notwithstanding Iran’s present restraint – following Napoleon’s dictum of not interrupting your enemy when it is making mistakes – were Saudi Arabia to militarily prick Iran, the retaliation would result in some serious broken crockery in the region.

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It is unfortunate that Islamic heavyweights like Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Arab League, and Gulf Cooperation Council have not come forward to iron-out Saudi-Qatar differences. Worse, their silence gives credence to the notion of painting an outcast Iran as a pariah state, further widening the Shia-Sunni chasm.

Amid US receding power in the Middle East, the international community, must step-in to instill some sense to Saudi Arabia and its allies. Left to their own devices these autocratic rulers are otherwise hell-bent on destroying Muslim civilization.

Adnan Qaiser, an associate of Conference of Defence Associations Institute, Canada, with a distinguished career in the armed forces and international diplomacy, investigates continued Afghan instability. He can be reached at a.qaiser1@yahoo.comThe original version of this article has been published by Conference of Defence Associations Institute, Canada and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

Adnan Qaiser began his professional career as a commissioned officer in the Pakistan army and took early release as a Major. While working in various command and staff positions, he developed a thorough understanding of national civil and military leadership, intelligence establishment, regional geopolitical players and the security and policy issues that preoccupied them. Moving on to international diplomacy, he fostered political, economic and cultural relations for the next 12½ years at bilateral and multilateral platforms, watching closely some of the most turbulent times in the South Asian and Middle Eastern politics from a G7 perspective. Emigrating to Canada in 2001 he upgraded his education and worked in various senior positions in public, private and not-for-profit organizations. Speaking many of the languages and having deep insight into the region he keeps writing (and publishing) papers on Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and the Middle East (including Canada’s military engagement in Afghanistan) and has been a regular commentator on Canadian television as well as a speaker at various eminent Canadian think tanks.

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