The Gulf countries imposing blockades on Qatar are the biggest losers in the recent crisis in terms of trade, Qatar’s Economy Minister Jassim al-Thani told us, noting that the impact of the crisis on the Qatari economy was very small.
“We know that the blockading countries are the biggest losers in this trade because we used to import from them more than we exported to them. So the trade balance worked in favor of them. So now their companies stopped exporting to us,” al-Thani told us.
He noted that some Gulf companies that worked in Qatari projects halted their works because their countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – asked them to return.
“So they lost their contracts here. They lost; their factories lost exporting to Qatar. For us, yes, we export to them some products and we used to import from them, but we quickly found alternatives for our imports. End of story. For us, it is business as usual. We are importing and exporting,” al-Thani said, adding that Qatar Airways was flying to 150 destinations all around the world except the blockading countries.
Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties and imposed sanctions on Qatar last month, accusing it of financing extremist groups and supporting terrorism. Qatar strongly denied the accusations.
Al-Thani noted that the impact of the blockade over the Qatari economy was very limited. “First of all, after the crisis, we had a clear plan of how to deal with this from the economic side. We are the biggest exporter of LNG [Liquefied Natural Gas] in the world. We are the biggest exporter of GTL [Gas-to-Liquids] in the world. We are the biggest exporter of helium in the world. And we are one of the biggest exporters of petrochemicals in the world. We export to South East Asia, Europe, Latin America, and all across the world. Our exports have not been affected at all,” he said, adding that out of the country’s total trade, only 8 percent was with the blockading Gulf countries.
Saudi Arabia and its royal family have been actively spreading their interpretation of Islam since the 1970s, though, among others, the MWL (Muslim World League) and the WANY (World Assembly of Muslim Youth), as well as mosque construction and imam education. Many senators have called for a government investigation to criminalize the spread of militant Wahhabism and Salafism as an important part of national efforts against extremism and jihadi propaganda.
Wahhabism is a cult built on fanatical fantasies of a power-hungry desert preacher in the 1700s, and it permitted the execution of apostates, which included proponents of different interpretations of Islam, followers of other religions and non-believers. Coincidentally, this is where Jihadis happen to stand.
Norway and Sweden came under fire for voting yes to allow Saudi Arabia, arguably the world’s biggest abuser of women’s rights, to the UN Commission for the Status of Women, despite Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström previously calling Saudi Arabia “medieval.” Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights was like making an arsonist into the town fire chief!
During his trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Europe in May, Trump inaugurated the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (GCCEI) in Riyadh — an endeavor that its appointed secretary-general, Nasir Al-Biqami of Umm al-Qura University in Mecca, described as the fruit of collaboration between Muslim countries that believe in the importance of combating terrorism.
However admirable a goal from the point of view of the West, this initiative has little chance of success, given the repressive regimes involved and the extremist worldview of the individuals who will be funded to promote it.
Partnerships with repressive regimes may in some cases exacerbate rather than solve the problem for us. Gradual reform is exactly the right approach, but will we see pushing Sisi of Egypt (with whom he is friendly), or Erdogan of Turkey, or the Bahrainis, for gradual reform?
This is quite wrong. The Sunni royal family’s oppression of the country’s Shia majority is in fact creating a breeding ground for radicalism and opening a door for Iranian subversion. Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Islam is at least a gateway drug for extremism. All around the world, Saudi money is being used to suppress indigenous forms of Islam. Saudi preachers, mosques, and schools teach that local and moderate versions of Islam are impure and must be replaced by the only true version, the Saudi Wahhabi version. But that version of Islam treats unbelievers with contempt and often hatred, oppresses women, and opposes democracy.
The new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology seems to be the logical extension of Obama’s efforts in the same area. In February 2015, the United States hosted a summit on combating violent extremism, which produced follow-up regional meetings to tackle various aspects of this phenomenon. It may have amounted to little more than extended speechifying.
Even on Iran, which Trump identified as the source of extremism and instability in the Middle East, the White House issued waivers on May 17 regarding Iranian sanctions, in keeping with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The only way, therefore, that the GCCEI can become more than simply another heavily-funded, failed organization — and contribute credibly to the war on global extremism and terror — is for its member states to engage in genuine introspection and undertake serious study of the roots of radicalism.
The GCCEI needs to examine, among other things, the way in which its patron, Saudi Arabia, has participated in, if not spearheaded, the very extremism that it is claiming now to combat: the connection between Wahhabism and terrorism; the hostility of its regime to democracy; the abuse of human rights; and the suppression of moderate interpretations of Islam.
The other Muslim/Arab states taking part in the initiative, too, must address the possible correlation between their regimes’ repression, humiliation and torture of their people and the adoption of violence on the part of individuals. Only after acknowledging and scrutinizing these questions can internal reform take place.
Is the GCCEI interested, willing or able to undertake such measures, or will it serve as an arena for Saudi propaganda and short-sighted state-security work? The latter is more likely, for a number of reasons.
First, Muslim/Arab leaders have come to learn, from past experience, that much of the White House’s approach to the Middle East begins and ends with lip service. Second, when Trump stated that fighting extremism and terrorism transcends every other consideration, he was, in effect, giving them unwritten permission to continue cracking down on their citizens.
Third, GCCEI — called Etidal (moderation) in Arabic — will be managed by a board of 12 directors appointed every five years, and the number of directors from each member state will be based on that country’s financial contribution to the center. In other words, the center will be ruled by — and further the interests of — wealthy absolute monarchies.
Finally, GCCEI research on how terrorist groups function, coupled with innovative monitoring techniques that the center develops, will provide additional fodder to the arsenals employed by member states not only to tackle terrorism committed by groups they oppose, but to enhance the political stronghold of their regimes.