February 20, 2015

Saudi and Qatari dilemma: Can they support al-Sisi in his war on ISIL and support ISIL in its war on Assad?

    Friday, February 20, 2015   No comments


 
GCC
When Prince Salman became King Salman, world leaders wanted to know about the man now controlling the country that exports more oil than any other, Saudi Arabia. Several leading publications claimed that the 79 year old king suffers from serious chronic illnesses. The Economist proposed that his predecessor, King Abdullah, had concerns about handing the crown to Salman because Salman may be suffering from Alzheimer's disease.  The Atlantic, too, reported in 2010 that Salman suffered from dementia. The official reaction of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the intergovernmental organization that is supposed to represent the wealthy Gulf States but actually serves to promote Saudi interests and point of view, to Egypt's claim that Qatar supports terrorism, suggests that the King might be indeed suffering from dementia. The background for this story is as follows:


Last week, ISIL’s branch in Libya killed, in its trademark revolting ways, 21 Egyptian workers. The next day, Egypt, ostensibly, in coordination with the Libyan government—or at least one of the Libyan governments, attacked ISIL in Libya. The government of al-Sisi sought political cover from Arab countries. The Arab League issued a statement of “understanding,” to which Qatar objected. The Egyptian representative in the Arab League, Tariq Adil, responded by accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism. Qatar recalled its top diplomat from Cairo and the GCC secretary, Abd al-Latif al-Zayyani, issued a harsh response saying that “the accusations against Qatar are untrue” and that “Qatar, along with its sister countries in the GCC, has made sincere efforts to fight terrorism and extremism.” 


Hours later, the GCC issued a second statement, this time saying that the GCC “reaffirms its full support to Egypt and its president Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi to fight terrorism inside and outside Egypt… and that the security of Egypt is important for the security of the GCC.” In a sense, this statement is a retraction of the first one. Since the GCC generally represent the Saudi point of view, these conflicting statements in the span of 24 hours suggest that the King of Saudi Arabia is either suffering from dementia or is trying to have his cake and eat it. He wants to be a friend of both Egypt and Qatar, despite that Qatar and Egypt have serious differences.


In the end, it would seem that the GCC chose not to escalate their conflict with Egypt. But this is clearly a temporary fix. Around the world, the frequency of statements and publications critical of the GCC, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is increasing. The public too see Saudi and Qatari roles unfavorably. The first GCC statement of support to Qatar generated nearly 46 million reactions on social media, most of which critical to Qatar. Leaders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia are spending more time denying their support to terrorist groups. In the long run, these two countries must confront the fact that they are indeed enablers of terrorism by virtue of their privileging of Salafism over all other interpretations of Islam. Regionally, Qatar and Saudi Arabia must abandon their foolish distinction between ISIL in Iraq and Syria and other ISIL’s in Egypt, Libya, and Lebanon. They are all natural growth of violent Salafism, which branched out of the kind of conservatism these two countries espoused and promoted around the world for more than 70 years.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.



Ed Isr

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