Opinion: A New Middle East Doctrine

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By Maktoum Bin Butti Al Maktoum

The Qatar situation in the Middle East is not a crisis, but a disaster in broader terms. Unfortunately, even the recent American State Department mediation efforts seem to have underestimated the situation, looking at it as merely a family feud between the brotherly countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

All mediation proposals to date have failed as their assessments of the situation conclude that this is a “temporary crisis” that can be patched, when the reality is that it is a disaster that will last long and requires a permanent solution that will not only benefit the Middle East, but other countries around the world that have been affected by extremism and radicalization.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent efforts have unfortunately made the situation more complex by giving the Qatari government the illusion that a simple solution is possible. Furthermore, it is jeopardizing the White House’s extensive efforts to dismantle extremist ideologies and activities internationally.

The four countries today are not willing to accept any half measures, especially after the two previous attempts in 2013 and 2014, which sadly gave leeway to Qatar’s government instruments of power, be it diplomacy, economics, media, intelligence and military, to encourage their institutions to foster the funding of extremism and radicalization, promote hate speech and incite discrimination against the Islamic faith.

From an international perspective, this is not only about Qatar today; we are missing the finer points in a new foreign policy doctrine. Many countries, such as the United Kingdom and France, have been suffering from radical Islam domestically, which cannot be addressed internally within their institutions due to these countries’ domestic policies. Clear collaboration and strong efforts are required by the countries affected to support the Arab quadruplet plan on Qatar to change their government’s unreasonable behavior.

This new doctrine is a gift to the international community in that it aims to nip terrorism in the bud and create a safer, more harmonious world.

Countries around the world are thus missing an opportunity to stand firmly by the four Qatar-boycotting countries in their stance and who are in total agreement on a “zero tolerance policy” against extremism and radicalization, the key drivers of terrorism.

This stance will put an end to extremists such as Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, an influential Egyptian scholar who publically permitted suicide bombing on Al Jazeera TV, in the future. It will also stop any further harboring and funding of terrorists in Qatar or internationally.

If this opportunity is not grasped, or a mediocre solution is accepted, then it will undermine what the four countries are aiming at and more radicalization will continue.

A further analogy would be that even though Turkish troops added another layer of complexity to the situation in Syria by having their own national interests regarding the Kurds, their role still enabled the defeat of Daesh and helped put an end to its expansion. This is an important lesson that will go down in history: when the world collaborates and aligns its efforts with one goal, it is easier to solve a problem, even one as complicated and toxic as Daesh.

Two of the four countries, without question are the center of gravity of Islam. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the home of the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina, while Egypt has the oldest and most prominent Islamic school in the region, Al Azhar. And it is very crucial that both are moving ahead and are fully supportive of this policy despite having their own unique challenges. Moreover, there is no doubt that the new youthful and dynamic generation in Saudi Arabia are in full support of the ongoing government efforts of policy change.

The biggest challenge today is to address how the GCC would operate without Qatar. For sure, the role of the GCC without it would be different in terms of geopolitics.

The new balance of power in the region is shaping the dynamics allowing Iran to expand its interests and hegemony, which in turn affects the national interests of the GCC, given Iran’s proximity to Qatar and also considering Turkey’s Muslim Brotherhood international agenda.

The rift today between The Quartet and Doha is deep and, as an Arab, if the bond of trust is broken then it becomes difficult to rebuild relations, especially when this deficit of trust has been present for years.

The bigger concern today as to what could possibly happen is that if mediation efforts take into account the national interests and terms and conditions of the four countries as if mixed with those of the mediating country’s interests, which can create new and unnecessary tensions with that mediating country and seriously affect their bilateral relations.

All in all, if half measures are accepted then we will not be able to address the issue of extremism, thus all mediation efforts need to understand that a quick fix is not possible and a long-term view needs to be taken, which could take months or even years. Time will only show how Bahrain, UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia will build a new resilient coalition to fight Islamic extremism and radicalization and expunge it from the Middle East where it was born.

Maktoum Bin Butti Al Maktoum is a United Arab Emirates official and diplomat.

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