A major power shift is taking place in the Middle East, this time it signals leaderships waking up to realities long overlooked and left to fester into insurmountable obstacles.
Saudi Arabia has historically played a leading role among Arab nations mediating among factions and providing counsel in conflict resolution; but it has taken a back seat in the past decade, opening the door for the relatively more progressive Qatar and UAE to press forward with ideas and examples of how Arabs can play a role in their affairs rather than be other nations’ foreign policy recipients.
Qatar in particular was very bold in its approach starting with AlJazeera’s creation, quickly turning it into a worldwide power, all the way to winning the World Cup in 2022. In between, hosting two major US think tanks, mediating reconciliation talks, playing a leading role at Arab Summits and taking over the conversation about relations with Israel.
On the other hand, Qatar never explained its controversial ties to terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Despite all efforts by Qatari leaders to distance themselves of AlJazeera by claiming it was free of their control, people and governments came to identify the politics of the nation through the channel which has taken a side in almost every conflict it covered.
During the US war in Afghanistan, AlJazeera’s close ties to al Qaeda made the U.S. accuse it of serving as the mouthpiece of the terror group. When Doha became home to the first Taliban headquarters, it was under the guise of facilitating peace talks with the U.S. and Afghanistan. Quickly intentions were scrutinized and the lack of transparency backfired with the closing of the offices.
During the split between Fatah and Hamas, AlJazeera sided with Hamas, polarizing viewers and Palestinian leadership. The network sided with Hezbollah against other Lebanese groups, polarizing Lebanon. In Egypt, the coverage bluntly supported the Muslim Brotherhood. The confrontation became so severe that AlJazeera journalists are now in jail accused of aiding a terrorist organization. Since its inception, AlJazeera has been kicked out of many countries with accusation of incitement meant for Qatar itself not only the media organization.
What we are witnessing with recalling ambassadors and blockade threats so close to Obama’s visit to the region is an overdue duel of power and influence; what Arabs need however is a division of responsibility. The threats the region faces are explosive and deadly. This latest episode shows the decay in relationships, loyalties and responsibilities.