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January 26

by The Analytical

On 5 January 2020, BBC News reported how Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was embraced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in the historic city of al-Ula. At the summit, the GCC countries signed an accord restoring all ties with Qatar after more than three years. But how meaningful is this step?

Michael Bosch, persecution analyst at World Watch Research, comments: “It all started in June 2017 when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt abruptly severed all ties and closed their borders to Qatar. Officially, the tiny Gulf state was accused of supporting terrorism and creating regional  instability; however, judging by the demands made by the Saudi-led coalition, it is clear that the battle for influence in the region was also partly to blame. Those demands included shutting down Al-Jazeera news broadcasting (often critical of Saudi policies), closing the Turkish military base just outside Doha and reducing its ties with Iran (BBC News, 23 June 2017). However, the main issue was and is Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which is also backed by Turkey. In contrast, the Saudi-led coalition countries have all designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.”

Michael Bosch continues: “Interestingly, Qatar did not budge an inch. The desert country simply imported cattle, increased trade with Turkey and Iran and moved on (BBC News, 4 June 2018). It seems clear that Saudi Arabia must have recognized that the boycott was having a negative impact, driving Qatar closer to Turkey and Iran, while the economy in both Qatar and Saudi Arabia suffered serious damage. In addition, with US President Joe Biden taking up office on 20 January 2021, it is likely that US relations with Iran will improve and no longer favor Saudi Arabia to such an extent as was the case with ex-President Trump. Hence, Saudi Arabia must have calculated that it was better to restore ties with Qatar before the tide turned.  Thus it appears that Qatar ends up the winner, since ties with all coalition countries have now been restored without it having to give in to any demands. But this very fact highlights the potential weakness of the al-Ula agreement: How sincere are the parties involved and do they trust one another? Both the UAE and Egypt have indicated their reservations. Further, the agreement seems to be ineffective in bringing about any solution to the wars in Libya and Yemen, in which Qatar(‘s allies) and the Saudi-coalition both support opposing factions.”

Michael Bosch adds: “That makes another argument compelling: The COVID-19 crisis has caused massive reductions in foreign investment and demand for oil; hence, the increasing number of regional agreements (including the Abraham Accords between the UAE and Bahrain and Israel) are not just born out of geopolitical strategies, but are also a necessity for the economic survival of GCC countries  (Al Monitor, 13 January 2021). It is difficult to say what all these political maneuvers mean for Christians residing in the region. However, increased ties, especially with Israel, might possibly be a sign of growing openness and more toleration of religious minorities.”

Courtesy: Religious Freedom Institute : https://www.religiousfreedominstitute.org/cornerstone/transcript-the-possibility-of-civilization-islam-the-nation-state-and-what-it-means-to-be-human

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