The national flag of the UAE flies from water taxis, also known as abras, on the waterway in Al Ghubaiba’s creek district of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

U.S. Mediation or Qatar Concession: Ways Gulf Crisis Could End

(Bloomberg) -- The diplomatic crisis that enveloped the Gulf region on Monday pits some of the world’s richest nations in a power struggle over regional dominance. An alliance of four Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia is seeking to isolate tiny Qatar over its ties to Iran -- the Saudis’ chief foe -- as well as Qatari support for Islamist movements they oppose.

While those differences have sparked earlier standoffs, the unprecedented steps taken this time round leave the nations’ leaders with limited room for maneuver. Here, analysts comment on what’s behind the moves and what might happen next.

Allison Wood, Dubai-based analyst with Control Risks

  • The aim is to get Qatar to take “a harder line towards Iran, renounce the Muslim Brotherhood” and change the editorial policy of the Al-Jazeera media network, she says.
  • A Qatari compromise “would represent a huge loss of face” for ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. “He’ll be quite reluctant to make a public denouncement of those positions.”
  • Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. were emboldened by President Trump’s recent visit to Riyadh. Still, “it’s not in the U.S.’s interest to see the GCC sort of unravel,” according to Wood. “That could potentially push the U.S. to step in to act as intermediary between the countries.”

Firas Abi Ali, regional risk analyst at IHS Markit

  • “The emerging anti-Qatar coalition is unlikely to back down without some change in the Qatari government’s orientation and policies, including the expulsion of Qatar-based Hamas and Taliban leaders, and wanted Egyptian clerics,” he says.
  • Initially, Qatar is likely to attempt to create the illusion it’s complying -- without fully doing so, according to Abi Ali. And then in three to six months, it will probably “agree to the demands of its neighbors, leading Arab states to halt their escalation.”
  • If Qatar fails to comply, there’s the risk of sanctions or an effort to “replace the emir, with a view to bringing Qatar under the same level of Saudi influence as Bahrain.”
  • A decision by key members of Qatar’s most powerful families to abandon the emir and side with Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. is far more likely than military escalation.

Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates

  • The average Qatari citizen will feel the impact pretty soon as Saudi Arabia has blocked the land border through which Qatar imports food.
  • “Inflation will quickly accelerate,” he says, and there “will be chaos in Doha airport,” possibly triggering street protests and putting “immense pressure on the government.”
  • “Qatar has no other choice but to back down, the survival of Qatar as a sovereign state is at stake.”

Mohamed Kamal, political science professor at Cairo University

  • “Qatar doesn’t have much choice but to shift policies,” as the Gulf Cooperation Council “is its natural habitat, and it cannot survive outside it for long,” he says.
  • “Iran cannot replace Saudi Arabia for Qatar -- so there will be some compromises and reconsideration of positions.”

Lori Plotkin Boghardt, fellow at The Washington Institute

  • “The endgame is to get Qatar to change its policies, and the Saudis and Emiratis can be expected to up their game until that happens,” she says. 
  • There’s a history of “active Saudi and Emirati support for leadership change in Qatar.” That “would be a last resort” as it is risky to destabilize a Gulf Cooperation Council Council state. “But it can’t be ruled out.”
  • “The Qataris are going to need to convince the Emiratis and the Saudis that they’re not giving support to their domestic opposition.”
  • The U.S. would support the pressure on Qatar since a number of its policies “have been troublesome for a long time,” she says. “Any positive change in Qatar’s policies toward Hamas, terrorist financiers, and other destabilizing forces, would be generally viewed as a good thing from the U.S. perspective.”