On the Qatari-Saudi dispute in Syria

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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The current brokenness in spirit in Syria is sad and its future consequences are dangerous. It comes amid a dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the two countries which were partners in supporting the Syrian people against the massacres of the Syrian regime and its allies.

Truth be told, Syria is one of the reasons behind the dispute. At a time when Saudi Arabia supported Syrian national parties like the Free Syrian Army, Qatar chose to support armed groups that are internationally listed as terrorist. This is an extension of what Qatar is doing in other battlefields like Libya.

Riyadh’s and Doha’s differences in Syria emerged early, ever since the uprising began. However, it was a silent crisis as both countries were convinced that the stability of Syria and the region is not possible in the presence of the eroding Assad regime and after the horrific massacres were committed against civilians. The Syrian regime had also enabled Iran to militarily control the country and threaten the security of regional countries like Iraq, Turkey and Gulf countries.

As the regime destroyed cities, millions were displaced and the world’s fears of Syria turning into a hub for terrorism increased. However, Qatar continued to support ISIS, al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and others. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s primary option was the Free Syrian Army.

The dispute between the two Gulf countries escalated in terms of managing the opposition within the national coalition. Meanwhile, on the ground, the “Qatari” ISIS and al-Nusra attacked the “Saudi” free army and deprived it of the lands it liberated from the regime.

The disputes exposed the activities of Qatar, which was hiding behind the coalition after the increase of international espionage devices that monitored the two countries’ options in south Turkey and north Jordan.

Qatar destroyed the region by favoring extremists like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and extremist groups in Libya and Syria, and it implicated the Sunnis in Iraq.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

There’s more to that dispute than meets the eye. The real reason Saudi Arabia suspects Qatar’s intentions is due to the latter’s keenness to attract and support militants, especially Saudis. Saudi Arabia suspects that ever since the 1990s, i.e. since the coup in Doha, Hamad bin Khalifa’s government worked on targeting the kingdom by supporting those who oppose it financially and providing them with media coverage.

These figures include Osama bin Laden, the then al-Qaeda leader, who called for toppling the Saudi regime via the Qatari television. After the American invasion of Iraq, Qatar played a dangerous role in funding the so-called resistance, particularly foreign fighters who included Saudis.

They gathered in Syria and were later dispatched with other foreign fighters to revolting Iraqi governorates like Anbar. This happened in Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza for around ten years during the phase when the Hamad and Assad regimes were allied. The two regimes then had a row a year before Arab Spring revolutions erupted.

During Syria’s revolution, Saudi Arabia’s suspicions emerged again as Qatar continued to support armed Saudis as part of its plan to adopt terrorist organizations, like al-Nusra, which Saudi Arabia had blacklisted. In response to Qatar, the Saudi interior ministry publicly warned citizens of engaging in the Syrian war and requested Turkey not to let them pass through its territories.

Defying Saudi ban

One of the major Saudi fugitives is Abdullah al-Muhaysini, and Qatar has looked after him as part of its funding of the terrorist al-Nusra Front. Muhaysini, like Bin Laden, comes from a rich family. He escaped to Syria in 2013 defying the Saudi ban.

It seems contradictory for Saudi Arabia to support the Syrian revolution while opposing foreign fighters’ support of it. However, it actually opposes this support because it fears its repercussions on it.

Saudi Arabia was against foreign fighters in Afghanistan after the Soviets exited it and it was against them in the wars of Bosnia, Somalia and Iraq. Syria’s war marked the terrorist nightmare as it involved Iran and its militias and ISIS and its branches.

To Riyadh, slaughtering the Syrian people was not acceptable. Iran’s domination over Syria was also not acceptable considering the threats it poses on the region. Qatar, however, saw Syria as another arena to tamper with and raise its brutal animals from extremist groups. Doha thinks extremists Islamists are its winning card as it’s under the illusion that it can use them to make gains in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria.

Qatar destroyed the region by favoring extremists like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and extremist groups in Libya and Syria, and it implicated the Sunnis in Iraq. Its extremist organizations harmed the Syrian revolution groups a lot more than Assad’s forces and Iran’s militias did.

Qatar also distorted the image and dream of the Syrian people who revolted against violence and it sent them groups that believe in slaughter and slavery, randomly accuse others of apostasy and permit shedding their blood.

At the beginning, we thought there was Saudi paranoia of Qatar and that Saudi Arabia’s suspicions were exaggerated. However, Doha’s frequent practices and its strange insistence to support extremists proved that this is a policy and not just a reaction or an imagined perception.

This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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