The Crown Prince’s New Clothes
by John Andrews– PARIS – This June, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar. This Gulf crisis will, one way or another, come to an end. But whether that end will be good for the chief instigator of the crisis, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), remains to be seen.
An extreme but unlikely solution to the crisis could come in the form of military-enforced regime change, whereby the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, would be replaced by a more pliant member of the Al-Thani family. In a more likely scenario, Qatar may stop providing sanctuary for a few members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and discreetly promise to rein in Al Jazeera, its state-funded television network, which broadcasts throughout the region.
In the latter scenario, diplomats from Kuwait and Oman, who are mediating the dispute, would hold themselves up as peacemakers, and MBS would claim to be a statesman. Western governments worried about the price of oil and the future of America’s Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar would rest easier, at least until the next Gulf crisis. But if MBS continues to pursue headstrong policies, and Qatar keeps using its oil wealth to punch above its weight in regional politics, such a crisis may not be all that far off.
The latest Saudi-Qatari contretemps is hardly an example of the “Thucydides trap,” in which an incumbent hegemon is tempted to suppress a rival whose power is approaching its own. Saudi Arabia is host to around 32 million people, one-third of whom are foreign workers; Qatar is host to just 2.6 million people, 90% of whom are foreign.