Crisis over Qatar

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On 5 June Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut off transport links and diplomatic relations with Qatar. They accuse Qatar of support for terrorism and complicity with Iran, after Qatar paid about $1bn in ransom payments to Iranian officials and Tahrir Al Sham, an Al Qaeda affiliate group, for the release of members of its royal family, captured and held hostage while on a hunting trip to Iraq. Qatar is viewed by Saudi Arabia as insufficiently hostile to Iran and Qatar supported the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, loathed by the Saudis, who backed its overthrow in 2013. Qatar has retained ties with the Syrian government, opposed by the Saudis, and it may seek to fund the rebuilding of post-war Syria. This would give it influence in Syria, across which oil companies want to install a pipeline route from the Gulf to Europe via Turkey (Robert Fisk The Independent 8 June 2017).

This rift in the Arab ruling classes may prove embarrassing for the British government and difficult for the US to manage, as it has potentially significant regional consequences. On 7 June Iran’s foreign minister flew to Ankara and Turkey’s parliament authorised the dispatch of additional troops to Qatar. About 150 Turkish troops are already stationed in Qatar and in 2014 Turkey and Iran agreed to build a military base in the country.

Qatar is the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, supplying up to 90% of Britain’s imports, and it hosts a major US military base. The country is a significant international investor and is scheduled to host the 2022 World Cup. Two days before Article 50 was triggered on 29 March 2017, signalling Britain’s intention to leave the European Union, the Qatari prime minister said his country would invest £5bn in the UK in the next five years. Qatar has some £40bn invested in Britain already, including in Heathrow airport owner BAA, the Shard skyscraper and Canary Wharf in London, Harrods and Claridge’s. In the midst of the 2008 financial crisis Qatar helped bail out Barclays Bank and the bank is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and Financial Conduct Authority for possible criminal transactions. However, before the election May said that she would disband the SFO if she were re-elected Prime Minister; shameless to the end in the pursuit of profits.

Trevor Rayne

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 258 June/July 2017