The rift in the storied Gulf Arab brotherhood (not to be confused with the Muslim brotherhood) has become wider and deeper with each passing day ever since Saudi Arabia and allies ousted Qatar from the fraternity in June last year. Ten months later, Riyadh is reportedly planning to take up the unforgiving sword once again, this time to physically cut Qatar loose from its geographic mass. Saudi Arabia won't stop there. The plan is to cut an ocean channel through the land border and turn the border region into a perilous nuclear waste heap.
If Saudi Arabia goes ahead with the plan, it will result in a sorry spectacle. Whether such a drastic move will be a boon or bane for Qatar is a different matter altogether. It will be interesting to watch Saudi Arabia building the futuristic, transnational city Neom near its border with Jordan and Egypt while it also digs a 60-km-long, 200-metre-long hole to cut Qatar off its body mass. The contradictions and rivalries within the complex web of Gulf Arab monarchies are mind boggling indeed.
Saudi Arabia permanently closed the Salwa border gate with Qatar in December last year, sealing all trade, people movement and transactions with Doha. The border was closed first in June, immediately after Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt announced a blockade on Qatar in June. The gates were opened for a two-week period later, only to let Haj pilgrims enter the Kingdom through road.
The latest plan is to make a Suez Canal-like channel that will permanently make Qatar an Island. The 200-meter-wide channel will be up to 20 meters deep. The Saudis will then mark the entire border region a military zone and make it a nuclear waste dumping zone. Enough punishment for an incorrigible little brother who would just not subdue, but instead boisterously punch above its weight all the time.
The Saudis will spend as much as 2.8 billion riyal ($750 million) and get help from the UAE and Egypt in the construction. They are already in talks with the US for the nuclear reactors. By the time the nuclear power plants are in place, the waste heap in Qatar's backyard will be ready.
Is it all that bad for Qatar, except perhaps for the fact that they will have a nuclear waste heap in the backyard? If Riyadh decides to cut Qatar loose, so be it. The two 'brotherly' nations share too much history, their ruling dynasties are closely interlinked, but their recent past is beset with distrust. The powerful glue of Wahhabism and ancient bloodlines that connect the royalties in the two countries have failed to keep them together. From interpretations of the religion to changes in social mores and from political ambitions to the definition of terrorism, the brothers have differed much and painfully. They have had border disputes and there have been reports about clandestine efforts to destabilize each other's monarchies. And they will never agree on the Iran question while the gap is only widening over the Israel question.
Qatar is limping back to normalcy after the Gulf blockade devastated its supply chains last year. If the brothers and rivals wanted a petrified Qatar to abandon the 2022 Fifa World Cup Football bid, that hasn't happened as well. Qatar's foreign policy and it geopolitical standpoints are replete with paradoxes and the tiny thumb on the Arabian peninsula has seemingly found the secret recipe to the concoction that keeps it alive. It's not just alive, it's vigorously kicking at the ribs of its larger rivals. So if the Saudis want to cut them loose, let it be. It will rather be an opportunity.
In his book 'Qatar: The Rise to Power and Influence' Allen Fromherz put it succinctly. "Qatar really claims a Wahhabism of the sea. It's a more open and flexible notion of Wahhabism than that of the desert. Sheikh Hamad's claim of lineage to al-Wahhab may be a way of shoring up the legitimacy of this alternate vision of Wahhabism and a way of disarming those who would claim that Qataris are not truly Wahhabi."
If Saudi Arabia digs up a channel that will make Qatar an Island, it will forever be free from the Wahhabism of the desert practiced in Saudi Arabia. The luminous little island of Qatar in the Persian Gulf won't be a bad sight at all.
The only losers will the rev-hungry Qataris who are raring to take their mean machines to the border gates and then zoom out into the wild wild desert -- to Riyadh, to Dubai, to Amman, to Muscat, to Beirut. Those who have ever lived in Qatar would tell tales about the extreme smallness of the landmass and how a jolly post-breakfast drive out of the city of Doha on a weekend will immediately take you either to the Saudi border or any of the Persian Gulf beaches.
The distance from Doha to Salwa gate at the Saudi border is just 108 km. If you drive northward for just 85 km, you hit Al Shamal in over an hour. The Saudi connection healed the motorheads' phobias and opened the wild vistas before them. Now with the land connection gone, a million sullen grunts will be heard at the gates that won't open ever again.
(Views are author's own)