Saudi / Qatar rivalry and al-Saud policy of abandoning their mercenaries

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE are at odds with Qatar is now official after they recalled their ambassadors from Qatar.  Reports say Saudi Arabia has also shut land borders, prohibited Qatari commercial planes using Saudi airspace and expelled Qatar from GCC and AL.   Relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been simmering for the last century since the occupation of Qatar by Abdul Aziz 1913 and its annexation to Saudi Arabia’s eastern province for two years until Britain pressured the Saudi ruler to recognize Qatari borders.  But the immediate cause of the recent rift ensues from differences between the two gulf states over supporting their favorite bands of terrorists after a fragile “alliance of necessity” during the so-called Arab Spring which didn’t last long.

Qatar has been staunchly behind Muslim Brotherhood with massive financial and public support since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.  Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, sees the present Muslim Brotherhood network as a threat to its al-Wahab power base in the Arabian peninsula.  

UAE has been furious with Qatar after Yusuf Qaradawi publicly criticized its government.  Bahrain can do little else other than second the decision of Saudi Arabia, whatever the Sauds decide, as the House of Saud is directly helping the Bahraini government to quell Bahrain's homegrown uprising.  The big reason UAE supports the ostracization of Qatar is because it views Muslim Brotherhood's power base on Qatari soil as a threat to its secular infrastructure and burgeoning economy.  However, Saudi Arabia is home to al-Qaeda which should be no less intimidating.  Yet UAE isn't fretting over Saudi support and its multi-billion dollar financing to terrorists.  There are some very convincing reasons for that.

In the spring of 2011 when Saudi Arabia and Qatar apparently got along well and were desperate to send mercenaries to Syria, numerous Saudi criminals were released from prisons, groomed in rehab centers and sent off as “jihadists” with monthly salaries, cigarettes, drugs and regular supplies of sophisticated weapons.  That went on for a while. 

By end 2013 rumors began circulating that the Saudi government was given a lengthy dossier containing evidence of Saudi Arabia’s terrorist involvements in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.   This information was reportedly with the international community which could officially lead to Saudi Arabia’s classification as a state sponsor of global terrorism.  Consequently a lengthy royal decree was issued by the Saudi government early 2014 condemning all forms of terrorism and calling for severe sentences against those who indulged in it.  It was a message to the terrorists Saudi Arabia had been sponsoring and financing in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other places as well that if they returned they would be incarcerated and punished.  To avoid that, they must strictly respect the one-way ticket, stay out of Saudi Arabia and keep fighting outside Saudi borders until dead or killed. 

It doesn’t paint the Sauds as smart or intelligent.  They already tasted the bitterness of “jihadists” returning home after the Afghan war and would never allow anything similar to happen again.  But it does confirm that Al Qaeda is being used and dumped.  While in the process of rehabilitation and transformation into more seasoned convicts, their limited minds prevented them from thinking over the possibility of homecoming for survivors in case their “jihadist” mission failed.  So far, this episode has ended horribly for Al Qaeda in Syria.  The weapons being supplied to them worth billions haven’t yet helped them to make any significant headway; they failed to convince their ally, NATO, for military intervention as in Libya; their Saudi financiers have double-crossed them;  and infighting within their splinter groups is getting fierce.

History vividly highlights a pattern of using and dumping its own fighters by the House of Saud.  In 1902 (almost eighty years after being sacked by the Ottomans), Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud with some 60 of his brothers and cousins rode out into the desert to restore the rule of Al Saud. He re-captured Riyadh.  But to conquer all of the Arabian Peninsula he needed the help of the nomadic Bedouins called ‘Ikhwan’ or Muslim Brothers who were renowned warriors and fervent puritans wanting to spread their form of Islam throughout the Middle East. With the help of the Ikhwans, Abdul Aziz captured province after province of the vast desert with the sword and plenty of bloodshed!   But the Ikhwans were still restless and wanted to take over regions beyond Arabia.  When Abdul Aziz disagreed, the Ikhwans rebelled.  With the endorsement of al-Wahab religious authorities who have been the “moral guardians” of the Sauds since the beginning, Abdul Aziz crushed the Ikhwans, declared himself “king” in the 1930s and gave his name to the entire Arabian peninsula.  

At present, the Brotherhood network stretching across Egypt, Gaza, Jordan and Syria voicing its own school of Salafiism is seen as a formidable rival of al-Wahab’s Salafiist style of governance – the Saud/Wahab alliance which is the cornerstone of the kingdom’s ideology.  This alliance has permanently kept a wide gulf between its ruling elites and foot soldiers.  Accordingly, it’s now Al-Qaeda’s turn to be abandoned.

Based on this aspect of history and current reality, the view of some hasty observers who connect Saudi Arabia’s more cordial relations with post-Morsi Egypt to the latter's shift to the imperialist block is completely false.  Though Saudi Arabia is itself solidly in the imperialist block, its balancing game between the various “jihadists” is restricted within a particular sphere.  In fact, it bears a conflicting element with the U.S. perspective of the Syrian war as the West is more interested in assisting the indigenous group of Brotherhood fighters in Syria rather than the foreign fighters under the umbrella of various al-Qaeda groups. 

Saudi Arabia may offer help to any post-Morsi, non-Brotherhood, government in Egypt to crush Brotherhood militants.  But as smaller al-Qaeda groups begin to eye the Sinai region as their new base (e.g. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis), Saudi Arabia could start financing them any time in future to help them become stronger militant groups compared to Muslim Brotherhood .. a move that would only add to the woes of the Egyptian government.