The Qatar crisis is at one and the same time an illustration of long-term patterns of policy among the Gulf monarchies and a case study in how shifting environmental and decision-making structures can dramatically alter regional relations – with potential long-term results. Local rulers have long combined the search for a hegemon-protector with that for complementary relationships. Since the 2nd world war, regional threat perceptions by these states have remained fairly similar: they were strategic, ideological and status-related; the common perceived sources of such threats were Iran and Iraq; and, for the 5 smaller states, Saudi Arabia. Responses to these perceived threats diverged, being shaped by the role conceptions of the ruling regimes and particular individual regime figures. The GCC has reflected both these commonalities and differences: the commonality only really came through at peak threat times. Throughout, channels of communication, cross-border kinship networks and the common interests of the ruling groups were safeguarded even at times of crisis.
The current environment has been impacted by the Arab Spring, ISIS, a diminished Iraq and a resurgent Iran, along with a relative shift in the global position and regional role of the US. The common concern about Iraq, Iran and ideological messages is still potent; so is the concern of four of the smaller states about Saudi hegemonic ambition. But the interpretations of what the threats from Iran and ideological movements mean have varied widely.
The Qatar crisis must be understood in this context, but up until the Boycott, the long-standing pattern of maintaining avenues for conflict management had been maintained. A key domestic change has been in the decision-making environment in Riyadh and the UAE. Against the context of the Quartet regimes’ fears inspired by the Arab Spring, and the enabling factor of the Trump White House, the role perceptions and inclinations of UAE Crown Prince Mohammed ben Zayed and his Saudi counterpart, Mohammed bin Salman, led to an unprecedented redesign of the regional policy posture.
About the Speaker
Gerd Nonneman is Professor of International Relations & Gulf Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar (SFS-Q), where he served as Dean from 2011 to 2016. He holds a Ph.D in Politics from the University of Exeter. Prior to his appointment as Dean of SFS-Q, he served as Professor of International Relations & Middle East Politics, and Al-Qasimi Professor of Gulf Studies, at the University of Exeter, where he also directed the Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies and the Centre for Gulf Studies. A former Executive Director of BRISMES, he is joint Editor of the Journal of Arabian Studies. Recent publications include: ‘Ruling Families and Business Elites in the Gulf Monarchies: Ever Closer?’ (Chatham House, 2016); al-Mamlaka al-ʻarabīya al-saʻūdīya fī al-mīzān (Saudi Arabia in the Balance) (Center for Arab Unity Studies, 2012); ‘Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States’ (Chatham House, 2011); ‘Terrorism and Political Violence in the Middle East and North Africa in Siniver (ed.), International Terrorism post 9/11 (Routledge, 2010); ‘Political Reform in the Gulf Monarchies’, in Ehteshami & Wright (eds.), Reform in the Middle East Oil Monarchies (Ithaca Press, 2008); Saudi Arabia in the Balance (New York University Press, 2006); and Analyzing Middle East Foreign Policies (Routledge, 2005).