The Qatar crisis is not simply a regional tiff, it is a fundamental disagreement about the direction the wider region should take. The West needs to see that actions in one country immediately affect others, says Sir John Jenkins.

Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Manama

By Sir John Jenkins, Executive Director, IISS-Middle East

One of the problems with much commentary on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at the moment — and with much Western policy — is that complex issues are too often seen as separate policy challenges requiring separate treatment. In reality, everything is connected. This has always been true, but it is more important now because the consequences of policy failures or successes in the region are more serious than they have been for decades.

When journalists ask me what I think of the Qatar crisis, I tend to say that to understand what is happening now, you have to understand not just the trajectory of the last three years — from the Riyadh agreements of 2013 and 2014 — or the last 22 years, but at least the last 50 and ideally 200, with all the complicated interactions between rulers, peoples and foreign powers in the Gulf. I also say you cannot dissociate the crisis from Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, or the serious ideological challenges that the Arab Spring did not create but exacerbated.

This is a pivotal moment for the Arab world. The need for deep economic and social reform has been widely recognized, not least in Saudi Arabia. But achieving this will be hard if the level of conflict in the Levant or in Libya remains as it is, if sectarian militias with external state sponsors continue to exploit turmoil to spread their influence, or if transnational Islamist movements — Sunni and Shiite — persuade enough people that their self-interested interpretations of sacred texts to justify blasphemous violence and the undermining of the nation state are correct.

Read the full article at Arab News.

Back to content list