Is regime change the best way to resolve Qatar crisis?

The visit could signal a new start in resolving the stalemate


Mustafa Al Zarooni

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Published: Thu 17 Aug 2017, 10:22 PM

Last updated: Fri 18 Aug 2017, 12:24 AM

The decision by Saudi Arabia to reopen its borders with Qatar for the Hajj pilgrimage shows the Kingdom's large heart and should not be viewed as a compromise or capitulation on the part of Riyadh. It proves Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and other Arab countries have only goodwill for the people of Qatar with whom they share strong emotional and cultural bonds. It shows the respect they have for their Qatari brethren who have been suffering from the policies of their government that refuses to take action against terror networks in its midst.

What is significant about this development is that Vice Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Jassem Al Thani, who is from a branch of the ruling family in Qatar that is opposed to the policy of its government. The meeting was held at the Peace Palace in Jeddah, and Sheikh Abdullah's active role in mediation efforts to resolve the crisis should be commended. It takes courage of conviction and is premised on principles on which the Gulf Cooperation Council was founded that we are friends, brothers and partners in development of the Gulf.

The visit could signal a new start in resolving the stalemate. It is also a sign that all is not well within the ruling family in Doha. Internal rifts within the ruling elite in Qatar are for all to see, and Sheikh Abdullah is held in high regard by GCC countries. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin praised Sheikh Abdullah for the visit and stressed the depth and importance of historical relations between the Saudi and Qatari people during the meeting.

Sheikh Abdullah enjoys wide acceptance within the Al Thani family and is a popular figure among ordinary Qataris. His side of the family values its ties to the region and there is immense respect for them in the GCC. He is the ninth son of the late ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah Al Thani. The royal is also a brother of Sheikh Ahmed bin Ali Al Thani, who was ousted by his paternal cousin Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, the grandfather of the present Amir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, on February 22, 1972. Sheikh Abdullah's side of the family is known for their administrative skills and for maintaining strong ties with neighbouring countries during the last century. They were responsible for guiding the young nation since its inception in 1971.

Sadly, traditional strong ties of the early years took a nosedive when Sheikh Hamad, the current Amir's father dislodged his father, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, in 1995. Qatar then embarked on an aggressive and independent policy that it took it away from GCC ideals. It supported extremist movements across the globe and played host to terror leaders who have threatened the security of the region. Doha has also nurtured an alternative relationship with Iran at the cost of its core partners in the GCC.

Pressure is mounting on Qatar since June 5 when Arab countries began a boycott and closed their airspace to flights from Doha. Business and investments have been hit in the country, and if the crisis drags on, it could lead to regime change in Doha where Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani may be forced to step down as the ruler of the country. All through the tense political standoff, the opposing branch of the Al Thani family led by Sheikh Abdullah supported Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and other Arab countries against the nasty media campaign led by Al Jazeera and Qatar's ruling elite.

The UAE welcomed the development. Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said Saudi Arabia decision has shown how "big-hearted it is". "Qatar's politicisation of the pilgrimage must end following the generous initiative of King Salman. There are matters that are nobler than politics," he wrote on his Twitter account.

Several Qataris on social media welcomed the decision, which could go a long way in easing tensions between the two sides. The GCC cannot be held to ransom by the ruling elite in Qatar. If they don't come to their senses, the bloc will have to look for alternatives. Sheikh has the qualifications and lineage. More than anything else, he's a peacemaker who can give Qatar a fresh start. -

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